Washington updates car-seat law to better protect children

Revised regulations mean "more kids will come home safe," says Harborview pediatrician who advocated for change.

Media Contact: Susan Gregg - 206.616.6730, sghanson@uw.edu

Gov. Jay Inslee today signed into law updated regulations on car-seat and booster-seat use in Washington state.  The updated law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Dr. Beth Ebel of UW Medicine
UW Medicine pediatrician Beth Ebel studies transportation safety at Harborview's Injury Prevention and Research Center.

Under the revised law:

  • Children under age 2 must use rear-facing car seats. Children should remain in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Children ages 2 to at least 4 years should use a forward-facing, age-appropriate child harness seat – and do so  as long as possible, until they reach the seat’s height and weight limits. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds.
  • Children older than 4 but shorter than 4’9” who have outgrown the child harness seat must use booster seats.  Most kids will need a booster seat until 10 to 12 years of age.
  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.

As with the previous law, drivers can be ticketed if a passenger under 16 is not using the correct car seat, booster seat, or seat belt based on their age, height or weight.

“These changes will help parents protect their children on the road,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and member of the Washington State American Academy of Pediatrics. “This change brings us in line with current best thinking about keeping kids safe.”

The changes align Washington state’s law with the most recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, issued in 2011.

Ebel, who studies transportation safety at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and cares for injured children at Harborview Medical Center, has testified in support of a stronger law for three years. 

“Harborview is the only Level 1 regional trauma center for children who have life-threatening injuries. Catastrophic car-crash injuries we’ve seen to children’s brains, organs and nervous systems might have been preventable had the child been buckled in the correct car seat.”

In head-on crashes, there are significantly fewer serious injuries and fatalities when toddlers are in rear-facing seats, which better protect their still-developing heads and necks.  In older children, poorly fitted seatbelts are associated with injuries to the spine, intestines, head and neck.  Ebel said she regularly sees kids 8 to 12 years of age “with completely preventable injuries, even at relatively slow speeds like 30 miles per hour.”

Such injuries can be prevented by the proper booster seat, which correctly positions the seat belt against the child until he or she is tall enough to use the vehicle’s seat belt alone.

“When I talk to parents about child safety, they say, ‘Why isn’t this the law?’” Ebel said. “Now that Washington law is updated, more families will follow these guidelines and more kids will come home safe. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important.”

More information on car seats and booster seats, including a directory of free seat checks in Washington state, is available at www.boosterseat.org.

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Tags:drivingchild safety

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