The state of Washington legally requires children under 4’9” tall to be secured in a child-restraint system.
Children under the age of 2 must be secured in rear-facing car seats in the backseats of vehicles until they reach the maximum height or weight limit on their rear-facing seats (as determined by the individual car seat’s manufacturer).
Children under the age of 4 must be secured in forward-facing car seats in the backseats of vehicles until they reach the maximum height or weight limit on their forward-facing seats (as determined by the individual car seat’s manufacturer).
Car Seat Requirements Washington State
Rear-Facing Car Seat Law Washington State
Children must ride in a rear-facing car seat in Washington until they reach ONE of the following requirements:
- Rear-Facing Car Seat Age: 2 years
- Rear-Facing Car Seat Weight: determined by manufacturer
- Rear-Facing Car Seat Height: determined by manufacturer
Children under two years of age must remain rear-facing until they reach the maximum height or weight limit on their rear-facing car seat as determined by the particular car seat’s manufacturer.
Once they reach either two years old or outgrow their rear-facing seat, children may transition to a forward-facing car seat.
Rear-facing car seats must be secured in the backseats of vehicles when available.
Front-Facing Car Seat Law Washington
Children must ride in a front-facing car seat in Washington until they reach BOTH the minimum age and ONE of these additional requirements:
- Front-Facing Car Seat Age: 4 years
- Front-Facing Car Seat Weight: determined by manufacturer
- Front-Facing Car Seat Height: determined by manufacturer
Legally, children must be at least 4 years old to transition to a booster seat in Washington.
However, just meeting the minimum age requirement is not sufficient.
Children must be secured in their forward-facing car seats until they are both 4 years old AND reach the maximum height or weight limit on their forward-facing car seat as determined by the car seat’s manufacturer.
Once a child reaches four years old and the maximum height or weight limit on the forward-facing seat, the child may transition to a booster seat.
Forward-facing car seats must be secured in the backseats of vehicles when available.
Car Seat Backseat Exceptions
All car seats must be secured in the backseats of vehicles in Washington when available.
A backseat is not available when:
- The vehicle does not have a backseat.
- The seatbelts in the backseat are broken or there is another issue with the vehicle that makes restraint in the rear seat dangerous.
- You are transporting multiple children of car seat/booster seat age, and all backseat seatbelts are in use with other car seats or booster seats.
Where can I get my car seat checked or installed in Washington?
Many fire stations, police departments, and medical centers in Washington have certified Child Seat Safety Technicians on staff who can help you install a car seat (or check your installation) by appointment.
The University of Washington maintains a small running list of Car Seat Check locations by county.
You can also contact Safe Kids Washington, led by the Washington State Department of Health, if you need help finding a certified technician in your area.
General Car Seat Laws FAQ
Are car seats effective?
According to the CDC, “car seat use reduces the risk for injury in a crash by 71-82% for children, when compared with seat belt use alone.”
What’s the best car seat?
Different types of car seats (infant, convertible, etc.) have different uses.
But, no matter what type of car seat you’re using, the best car seat is the one that will do the most effective job of keeping your child safe in the event of an accident.
See Which Car Seat To Buy: Making Sure Your Little Ones Stay Safe On The Road for our recommendations.
How do you install a car seat?
Car seat installation varies depending on whether the seat is being installed rear- or forward-facing and the manufacturer of the seat.
For help installing a rear-facing car seat, see Passenger Safety For Babies at Safe Kids Worldwide.
And for help installing a forward-facing car seat, see Passenger Safety For Little Kids at Safe Kids Worldwide.
Does AAA do car seat inspections?
Yes, the American Automobile Association (AAA) has certified child passenger safety technicians on staff.
If you are a member of AAA, you can have your car seat installation inspected for free (when available in your area).
Go to AAA.com/carseats to make an appointment for inspection.
When were car seats invented?
Two precursors to car seats as we know them today were both invented in 1962. (Though, they weren’t available until the late-60s.)
The first of these seats, and the one most similar to the car seats we use today, had a Y-shaped harness and was rear-facing.
The seat was invented by British inventor (and mother) Jean Ames.
The second of these seats was metal-framed seat designed to face forward, and was invented by American inventor Leonard Rivkin.
Before that, the only type of child seat for cars were booster-style car seats, which simply lifted children higher in the seat, but had no safety features and had been manufactured since the 1930s.
When did car seats become mandatory?
Car seats became mandatory between 1978 and 1986.
Though car seats were available in the late 1960s, and the data showing their effectiveness was available in the early 1970s, they remained optional safety devices, and most parents didn’t opt to use them.
So, it became a matter of enacting laws.
In the U.S., car seats became mandatory as most things do – on a state-by-state basis.
In 1978, Tennessee became the first state to enact a child restraint law of any kind (the law passed in 1977), a successful campaign that prompted other states to follow suit.
Over the next few years, all U.S. states passed and implemented child restraint laws, with all states enacting laws by 1986.
Who is responsible for child restraint laws in the U.S.?
While there were experts and activists all over the country working to pass child restraint laws, Dr. Robert Sanders and his wife Pat are largely credited with getting the first Tennessee law passed.
Dr. Sanders was a pediatrician and he and his wife lobbied for the legislation for years.
Dr. Sanders even got a moniker out of his activism.
He became affectionately known as “Dr. Seat Belt.”
Car Seats Save Young Lives
Car seats are designed to protect the smallest, most vulnerable of children, and, since car seat rules first went into effect nationwide in the mid-1980s, they have done a stellar job at saving kids’ lives.
That’s why car seats are required in every state in the U.S. up to a certain age (with some states also having booster and front seat laws), and why the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC recommend using some form of child restraint system in vehicles until children are big enough to be protected by a car’s built-in safety features (4’9”).
So, definitely follow Washington’s car seat laws to protect the smallest of children.
And continue to follow the booster and front seat laws (or expert guidelines) to ensure your child is well-protected on the road.
For more on Washington’s booster seat laws, see Washington State Booster Seat Laws.
For more on Washington’s front seat guidelines, see Washington State Front Seat Law.