New Jersey Updates Child Car Seat Law

On September 1, a new law regarding child car seats went into effect in New Jersey. Under the new requirements, a child younger than 2 years of age and weighing less than 30 pounds must be secured in a rear-facing car seat that has a five-point harness. In addition, the revised law provides for greater fines for parents and caregivers who fail to comply with its requirements. Police may issue $50 to $75 tickets to drivers caught with children in the wrong car seat or with no car seat at all.

The specific details of New Jersey’s updated car seat law are as follows:

Children Under Age 2 and Weighing Less Than 30 Pounds: If the child is under the age of 2 and weighs less than 30 lbs., the child must be placed in a rear-facing car seat. The car seat must also have a five-point harness.

Children Under Age 4 and Weighing Less Than 40 Pounds: If the child is under the age of 4 and weighs less than 40 lbs., the child must be secured in a either a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat that is equipped with a five-point harness.

Children Under Age 8 and Shorter Than 57 Inches in Height: If the child is under the age of 8 and less than 57 inches in height, the child must be secured either in: 1) a forward-facing car seat that is equipped with a five-point harness until the child outgrows the top height or weight recommendations of the car seat manufacturer; or, 2) a booster seat.

Once a child reaches age 8 or is greater than 57 inches tall, the child may sit in a regular seat with a seat belt. It should be noted, however, that the federal Center for Disease Control and Preventions (“CDC”) recommends that children refrain from sitting in the front passenger seat of a motor vehicle until the child has celebrated his or her 12th birthday.

The requirements New Jersey’s new car seat law comport with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that children be placed in in rear-facing car seats until they are at least two years old or until they weigh more than 30 pounds.

New Jersey Child Safety Week – Find Out If Your Car Seat Is Properly Installed

New Jersey has designated the week of September 13th through September 19th as “Child Safety Seat Week.” Certified car seat safety technicians will offer free help and educational information at locations throughout the State to ensure that parents have installed their car seats correctly.

In Bergen County, the Sheriff’s Office will open its new “Child Seat Fitting Station” on September 15 at 327 E. Ridgewood Avenue in Paramus to help parents learn if they are in compliance with the new law. Parents and caregivers who would like to attend should send an email to childcarseat@bcsd.us to schedule a free appointment with a certified car-seat technician. In addition, residents of Lodi may contact Police Officer Dominic Miller to schedule an appointment with him at the Lodi Police Station. Officer Miller’s email address is dmiller@lodipd.org.

Each county in New Jersey has at least one child safety seat checkpoint where parents and caregivers can receive free help to determine if they have the correct car seat, if it is properly installed, and if it fits the child securely. A list of the child car seat safety checkpoints for each county is available on the website of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

The New Jersey State Police conduct a child safety-seat checkpoint from 9:00AM to noon every Thursday and on the second Saturday of each month at the Troop “B” Headquarters located at 250 Minnisink Road in Totowa. No appointment is necessary, but parents are invited to call 973-785-9412, ext. 4216 for more information.

Child Car Seat Online Resources for Parents

There are a number of resources online to help parents who may have questions regarding the proper use of car seats. The following websites are good places to start for parents who are looking for additional information:

Staying Safe in the Car – Car Seat Recommendations for Children: Published by the New Jersey Division of Highway Safety, this handy, two-page pamphlet has tips for parents and caregivers regarding the safe use of car seats. The pamphlet has been updated to reflect the 2015 car seat law update.

Patents Central – From Car Seats to Car Keys: This website, maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, contains useful information to help parents determine if they are using the correct car seat based on the child’s age and weight.

Child Car Seat Inspection Station Locator: For parents who would like to have their car seats checked by a certified technician, this website contains a national, searchable database of car seat inspection stations. For the Spanish-speaking community, parents are able to search for locations that have Spanish-speaking certified technicians.

For expectant parents, New Jersey suggests that you install a child safety seat at least three weeks before the baby’s due date, just in case your bundle of joy arrives earlier than expected. In addition, it is recommended that parents carefully read the instructions that come with it, because a car seat is only effective if it is being used properly. It is particularly important that the harness strap is buckled and is not too loose around the baby or toddler. New Jersey recommends that there should be no more than one finger-width of slack between the child’s collarbone and the harness strap.

After buying a car seat, parents should register it with the manufacturer so that they are informed of any recalls, as there have been numerous car seat recalls in recent years. For example, just last month car seat manufacturer Britax recalled more than 200,000 car seats because of problem with the seats’ harness adjuster buttons. The New Jersey Division of Highway Safety website contains a searchable database of car seat models that have been recalled, as well as information regarding how to get a recalled car seat fixed.

Proper Use of Car Seats Will Save Lives

The importance of using a car seat that is properly installed and adjusted cannot be understated. Every 33 seconds, a child under the age of 13 is involved in an automobile accident in America and motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death in the United States of children over the age of six months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that car seat use reduces the risk and death by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers. In 2013, approximately 638 children under of the age of 12 died as occupants in motor vehicle accidents and more than 127,000 were injured. 

Sadly, many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented – it is estimated that 3 out of every 4 children are in car seats that have not been properly installed. The car accident attorneys at Seigel Law are all too familiar with the devastating effects of motor vehicle accidents. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is especially true with regard to the proper use of car seats. We strongly urge all parents and caregivers of small children to confirm that they are in compliance with New Jersey’s car seat requirements and to avail themselves of the resources listed above if they need help.   

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