What you need to know about Virginia’s new car seat law

On July 1, 2019, a new law came into effect in Virginia designed to enhance the safety of small children riding in child safety seats in automobiles across the Commonwealth.

Under the new law, all Virginia drivers must ensure that all children riding in their vehicles are secured in rear-facing car seats until they either reach age two, or achieve the minimum weight limit set by the car seat manufacturer for a forward-facing seat.  Previously, there was no law in Virginia establishing a minimum age limit for the mandatory use of rear-facing seats.

sleeping child in car seat

This new Virginia law was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor in 2018, but became effective on July 1, 2019.

The law has not changed with respect to older children.  All children seven years old or younger must be secured in an approved child restraint device.  Car seats must be installed in the back seat.  If the car does not have a back seat, then the car seat may be installed in the front passenger seat, but only if the passenger side airbags have been disabled.

The change in law was prompted in part by recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advocates for children to remain rear-facing as long as possible.  Pediatricians have advised that young children are less likely to die or sustain a serious injury if they are placed in a rear-facing seat, as research shows that rear-facing seats do a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of smaller children whose bodies are still developing.

Violation of this new law is punishable by a $50 fine for the first offense, which is payable to a special fund created to provide child safety seats to individuals who are unable to afford them.  However, violation of the child restraint law is not admissible to prove negligence or the failure to mitigate damages in civil cases.  In addition, taxicabs, school buses, executive sedans, and limousines are exempted from the requirements of the law.

If you need assistance to ensure that your child safety seat is installed properly, there are places to turn for help.  The Virginia Department of Health sponsors a “Child Passenger Safety Program,” and you can visit the department’s website for more information on “Safety Seat Checks” held regularly across the Commonwealth by certified child passenger safety technicians.

As attorneys whose practice focuses on representing injured people, we see on an unfortunately regular basis the devastating injuries that can occur when someone is not properly restrained during an automobile collision.  This is especially sad in cases involving children.  If you are traveling with children, remember to always use properly-installed child safety seats, and keep all children rear-facing at least until they reach age two.