Car Seats Clarified


I realize it’s important to keep my kids safely restrained in our car, but I hear one thing from my pediatrician, something different from safety websites, and I honestly have NO idea what the Texas law even says.  So I met with a sweet friend who happens to be a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician in hopes she could shed some light on the matter. Amy Armer is passionate about safe car seat use and was more than happy to help clear my muddled brain!


Here is the law:

The Texas Car Seat Law requires that all children who are less than eight years old and less than 57 inches (4’9”) MUST be properly secured in a safety restraint system (car seat or booster seat) AND all restraint systems must be installed and used per the manufacturer’s instructions. In other words, if a child is 57 inches or taller, he is not required by law to use a child safety seat system even if he is younger than eight years old. Children at least 57 inches or ages eight and up (including adults) must be secured by a seat belt provided that the child is occupying a seat equipped with a safety belt.

 These laws, however, are bare minimums in terms of safety.

Here are current recommendations:


For your infant and young toddler:


New recommendations state that children should remain rear-facing until at least age 2, but preferably longer until they’ve reached their convertible car seat’s height or weight limit.


Children under age two are 75% less likely to be killed or suffer severe injuries in a crash if they are riding rear-facing. If a baby is riding in an infant–only seat (usually has a handle and detachable base) it should be replaced with a rear–facing convertible seat before the baby reaches the maximum weight specified (22-35 pounds) or if the top of the head is within an inch of the top edge of the seat. Read your car seat’s manual to see specifications for your seat. Most babies outgrow the typical infant–only seat before they are one year old, but they are not ready for a forward–facing seat. New convertible seats available today allow children to remain rear facing until they weigh 30-45 pounds, depending on the model. Babies have heavy heads and fragile necks – even babies with strong neck muscles and good head control. If the baby is facing forward in a frontal crash, the most common and most severe type, the body is held back by the straps – but the head is not. The head is thrust forward, stretching the neck and the easily injured spinal cord. Older children in forward–facing safety seats or safety belts may end up with temporary neck injuries or fractures that will heal, but a baby’s neck bones actually separate during a crash, which can allow the spinal cord to be ripped apart. In contrast, when a child rides facing rearward, the whole body – head, neck, and torso – is cradled by the back of the safety seat in a frontal crash. Be sure the chest clip is armpit level!


For your preschooler:

Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the car seat manufacturer’s set height or weight limit. The chest clip must be armpit level and the shoulder straps snug. Whether you’re using the lower anchors or the seat belt for installation, the top tether is very important when your child restraint is forward facing, as it can reduce forward head movement up to 8 inches.  It’s also important to note that car seats usually expire after about 6 years from manufacture. There may be a use-by date molded into the plastic or on a sticker on the back of the seat. If not, check with the manufacturer. So that seat you bought for your firstborn probably isn’t safe for your 3rd child. Cut the straps and throw it out!

For your big kid:

Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat. Some younger children may outgrow the limit of the forward-facing car seat with a harness but may not be ready to stay seated properly in a booster seat using the lap and shoulder belt. If this is the case look for a car seat with a higher size limits.
If you can answer “Yes” to ALL the statements below, your child is okay to use a booster:

  • There is a shoulder AND lap belt where the child sits.
  • The child is at least 40 pounds.
  • The child is at least 4 years old.
  • The child can sit still the entire trip: without leaning, sitting on their knees, putting shoulder belt under their arm or behind their back, etc.
  • The child can sit with their back against the booster seat, or against the vehicle seat for a backless booster, with knees bending comfortably at the front edge of the seat.

A booster seat positions the vehicle’s safety belt properly on a child by making sure the lap belt rests on the child’s lap, over the strong hip bones – and nowhere near the soft belly. When a child rides on a booster, he must use the vehicle’s shoulder AND lap belt across them. It’s extremely important for kids to ride in boosters because a child’s bone structure is too small and underdeveloped to keep the safety belt in the proper place during a crash. A 4-8 year old child riding in a booster is 59% less likely to be injured in a crash than a 4-8 year old wearing a safety belt alone.

 (, NHTSA)


When can my child stop using a booster?

Do not stop using a booster seat unless you can answer “yes” to ALL of the questions listed here – no matter how tall, how heavy, or how old he or she is!

Make sure to perform the 5-Step Test for every vehicle that your child rides in. They may pass in some cars but not others. Many children will not be able to pass this test until age 10-12 despite the fact that Texas law allows them to ride without a booster at age 8.

After your child passes the 5-Step Test, it is recommended that children under the age of 13 remain properly restrained in a back seat. Everyone should be buckled up, at all times and on every trip. By wearing your safety belt, you not only protect yourself, you also protect other people inside the vehicle. Unrestrained passengers become projectiles in a crash and can hit other passengers (with thousands of pounds of force). Restrained passengers are up to two times more likely to die if ONE person in the car is unrestrained.

Hopefully this has cleared up the information for you, and please Share it with anyone with children!

Get Help:

Certified child passenger safety technicians are available to help you find the right car seat for your child’s age and size. OR

Or visit the East Texas Child Passenger Safety Facebook page to find out more information on technicians in our area.


  1. What about the front seat? Maybe I skimmed over it addressing when they can ride in the front.

    • Elizabeth Gaudette says:

      Children should stay in the back seat until 13 or about when they hit puberty so that their bodies can handle the forces of the airbag.

    • To my understanding there is no LAW about the front seat, except to properly use car seats according to the manufacturer’s instructions. So you can look those up for your car seat. But Liz is right. She is a certified CPST. =)

  2. Elizabeth Gaudette says:

    Awesome post Kelly! You really hit on every thing that is important! I hope you and all of your followers learned at least something from reading this. Great job!

  3. Jennie Madsen says:

    My kids are strapped in like we are blasting off into space. :-)

  4. What if I have a child that is going to be 16 in June of this year (2013) but is not 57 inches tall yet? I don;t understand the law if you’re not 57 inches you should be in a car seat no matter how old you are…right?

    • Elizabeth Gaudette CPST says:

      No, that is not correct. The law in the state of Texas is that every child under the age of 8 or under 4 foot 9 inches has to be in an approved child restraint and be using it properly. If you child is 15 they have most likely already begun going through puberty and now have the skeleton of an “adult”. If you have any more question please visit our facebook page and we will be happy to answer them :-)

  5. Elizabeth Gaudette CPST says: