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​Children under age 8 must ride in safety seats
child riding in car safety seat

Washington and Oregon law mandates that children riding in cars must use a child-restraint system until they’re age 8 or reach 4 feet 9 inches tall. That ensures adequate protection in a crash. Drivers who don’t properly restrain children face the possibility of being ticketed.

In Washington, the law also requires that children under 13 must ride in the back seat of a car ...when practical. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), placing children in back instead of the front seat reduces injury risk by 64% for infants and kids up to age 8, and by 31% for kids ages 9 to 12.

Both states’ laws align with guidelines from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

  • Children up to one year

    ...(or weighing less than 20 pounds) must ride in a rear-facing safety seat. As long as their weight stays within manufacturer's guidelines, toddlers can stay in rear-facing seats until age 2.
  • Children over one year

    ...and weighing 20 to 40 pounds must ride in a forward-facing safety seat. Make sure the harness lies flat and snug with the harness clip positioned at armpit level. Don't add padding or use heavy clothing, since that creates extra space between the child and the safety harness. 
  • Children under 8 years

    ...unless 4 feet 9 inches tall, must use a booster seat so the adult lap and shoulder belts fit properly  not rubbing the neck, and fitting across the hips, not across the abdomen.
  • Children over 8 years

    ...must use a properly fitting lap and shoulder belt or a booster seat with a lap and shoulder belt. It's safe for kids to graduate to lap and shoulder belts when you can say yes to these five questions:
    1. Does the child sit all the way back against the seat?

    2. Do knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?

    3. Does the lap belt stay across the child's hips without sliding up his or her abdomen?

    4. Is the shoulder belt centered on the child's chest and shoulder?

    5. Can the child stay seated this way for the entire trip?

PEMCO is a longtime supporter of the Washington State Safety Restraing Coalition and urges you to read its tips for installing car and booster seats. If you're car shopping, you'll also want to see which cars the IIHS ranked tops for Latch installation systems (designed to help drivers securely install child safety seats).

Safety by the numbers

Traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer of children ages 3 to 14, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The organization notes that child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers in passenger cars.

Similarly, children ages 4 through 8 who use booster seats (which give them added height so adult-sized seatbelts fit properly across their smaller bodies) are four times less likely to be injured than children using seatbelts alone, according to Seattle’s Harborview Injury Prevention Research Center.​

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