Florida’s Car Seat Laws

Parents looking out for their children’s safety often look to legal requirements and recommendations from the state to learn how to keep their children safe. As a parent or caregiver who drives children, it is vital to understand Florida’s car seat laws so that you know what is required of you.

Florida state legislators voted to support a new bill that would make it booster-seat use mandatory for children from the ages of 4 to 7. The bill, SB 518, was passed with a unanimous vote by the Florida Senate Transportation Committee Lawmakers say that the new law emphasizes a universal desire from both parties to protect children in the car and on the road.

If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident in Florida, call The Law Offices of David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A. Contact us at (954) 568-3636 for a free case review with our experienced Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyers.

History of Car Seat Laws in Florida

Before the passage of SB 518, Florida was one of just two states with no set restraint requirement for children who are too big for a car seat. According to the state’s previous laws, children age 3 and under must ride in a federally-approved child’s car seat, and children between the ages of 4 and 5 must be secured in either a car seat—if they fit—or a safety seat belt. Children over the age of 4 or 5 who have outgrown a traditional car seat, typically designed to fit for children weighing up to 40-50 pounds, are required by Florida’ existing seat belt laws to wear a seat belt when they are in the car, but sometimes, this seat belt is not enough to safely restrain the child in the event of a collision or accident.

Current Car Seat Laws in Florida

child car seat in the back of a carAlthough the state’s seat belt and restraint laws have, up until the passage of this law, been lax on requiring properly secured seats specifically for younger kids, studies have shown that children are better protected from impact and forward motion caused by a car accident when they are in a car seat or booster, and in states where booster seats are required, kids are almost 40% more likely to be appropriately secured by their parents while in the car. With a restraint that is specifically designed to protect smaller bodies, boosters and child seats can prevent a young passenger from hurdling forward in the car if the vehicle should be hit from the front, sides, or rear.

Most state laws recommend—or even require—that children from the ages of 4 to 7 should be secured in a forward-facing child seat or booster. Some states even go further, requiring children aged 8 to 12 to use a booster seat, especially if they have not yet outgrown the height and weight recommendations for standard car seats. SB 518 puts Florida in line with these states, our South Florida personal injury lawyer reports.

Parents can’t always prevent car accidents, but they can help prevent child injuries in Fort Lauderdale. Putting child passengers in the proper safety seats and systems can significantly decrease the risk of serious injury and death in the event of an auto accident. Florida, like all states, has laws in place enforcing the use of child safety seats in vehicles. Learning what the law says can help parents stay out of legal trouble, as well as ensure the safety of their kids. If you are misfortunate and find yourself in an auto accident, a Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer would be able to help you discuss your legal options.

Car Seat Rules for Children Under the Age of 18

In Florida, any passenger under the age of 18 must wear a seatbelt while in the vehicle. The proper type of seatbelt or safety system depends on the child’s age, height, and weight. A driver can receive a traffic citation and fine for any minor under 18 who is not wearing a safety belt. All drivers in Florida – teens, and adults – as well as anyone sitting in the passenger seat, must wear seatbelts at all times. Failure to wear a seatbelt could result in a $30 fine, as well as additional fees. Although not part of the law, the Florida Department of Highway Safety recommends all children 12 and under not ride in the passenger seat of the vehicle, if possible.

Any child five or under must sit in a federally-approved car seat while in a motor vehicle in Florida. Children under the age of five cannot sit in a seat with only a seatbelt and no booster or car seat. Failure to use a car seat for children five and younger can result in a $60 fine and three points on the driver’s license. Children three and under must sit in a separate car seat or a built-in car seat if the vehicle has one. Children four and five years old can either sit in a car seat or use a booster seat depending on the child’s height and weight.

Child Car Seat Rules and Best Practices

Putting your child in the correct type of restraint system is imperative for the safety of the child. If in the wrong type of car seat or one that is improperly installed in the vehicle, the seat cannot perform its duties during a collision. The type of restraint system that’s right for your child is about more than just age. Parents must read and follow the directions on the restraint system in terms of weight and height restrictions. In general, the right types are as follows:

Rear-Facing Car Seat

Newborn to two years old, or until the infant reaches the maximum weight or height limit on the car seat. Children under two years should only sit in rear-facing seats or rear-facing convertible seats.

A Forward-Facing Seat with a Harness

Children who outgrow the limits for rear-facing seats will graduate to a forward-facing seat with a harness. Toddlers and preschool-age children should use these car seats as long as possible, up to the maximum height and weight limit. Children should stay in these seats until at least the age of four.

Booster Seat

School-aged children who reach the weight/height maximums on forward-facing car seats will progress to booster seats. Children should remain in booster seats until they are four feet nine inches tall (around ages eight to 12). Only when they are tall enough for the seatbelt to fit properly over the shoulder and lap should parents stop using a booster seat.

Ensure Proper Installation of Your Child’s Car Seat

If you need help properly installing your child’s car seat, find a car seat inspection location near you. Many organizations host free events and stations where parents can get their car seats checked for proper types and installations. Following Florida’s car seat laws could save your child’s life. It could also keep you from being liable in the event of a tragedy or wrongful death. If you or your child has been injured due to a car accident or incident with their car seat, a Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyer can discuss what remedies you may have.

Additional Tips to Properly Use a Car Seat

Understand How to Use a Car Seat for Young Children

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and many other expert organizations recommend that your child should be in a rear-facing car seat until age 3. Then, you can put them in a forward-facing seat until they’re older. Find the best car seat for your child by entering their date of birth, height, and weight on the NHTSA website.

Use Child-Appropriate Safety Seats

The number one way to keep your child from suffering fatal injuries in a motor vehicle crash is to strap him or her in the correct safety seat. Using the wrong type of seat or installing it incorrectly can result in injuries as if your child wasn’t in a safety seat at all. It’s important to know which seat to use and how to place it into your vehicle. By age and size, here are the correct types of car seats:

  • Birth to age two. Rear-facing infant car seat.
  • Ages two to five. Forward-facing car seat.
  • Ages five until the height of 57 inches. Booster seat.
  • Children 57 inches and up. Seatbelt.

Always refer to the manual of your car seat to find out the upper weight or height limit of the seat. Obey these limits, not your child’s age alone. Do not remove the booster seat and rely only on a seatbelt until the belt fits around the child’s hips and shoulders properly. The recommended height for seatbelt use is 57 inches. Children under the age of 13 should never ride in the front seat, for risk of airbag injuries. Never place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an airbag. Buckle up every person in the car, every ride!

Be Cautious of Power Windows

If your vehicle has the option, child-safety lock the windows while driving. Power windows have enough strength to strangle a child whose head is out the window or fracture bones such as in the fingers. Stay in control of the power windows if possible or enforce a rule of no playing with the windows or sticking limbs out while in the car.

Never Leave Your Child Unattended

Florida is second in the country (behind Texas) for the number of hot-car deaths. In 2017, 83 children died in Florida from heatstroke after being in hot vehicles too long. Never leave your child unattended in a vehicle, no matter the temperature or how long you’ll be gone. On hot days, however, the risk of death significantly increases. Hot car deaths are 100% preventable.

Suing for Your Child’s Injuries in a Florida Car Accident Case

If your child was injured in a car accident, car seat laws will be an important factor. However, there are other laws that you should be aware of that will affect your ability to get compensation for your child’s injuries.

First, it is important to understand that parents can often sue for their child’s injuries while they are still minors. This allows them to get compensation that can help pay for their children’s medical expenses and potential ongoing and future struggles they will face because of the car accident injuries.

Car seat laws will factor into your case, especially if your child was not properly seated according to regulations. Generally, if the other driver was at fault for a car crash, they are held 100% liable for the damages that you face in the crash. However, your own negligence (or the parent’s negligence in the case of a small child’s injuries) could be used to block recovery. If the court finds that failing to properly use a car seat contributed to your child’s injuries, part of your damages could be blocked.

The court will be able to parse out which damages were caused by the at-fault driver and which damages were attributable to the fact that your child was not properly seated in a car seat. If your child’s injuries could have been prevented or reduced by a car seat, but you failed to use one, those damages could be held against you instead of the defendant. This would mean additional out-of-pocket expenses for you and your family.

However, our South Florida car accident lawyers might be able to fight these accusations and show that your child was reasonably seated, even if the exact letter of the law was not followed in your case.

Can You Sue for Negligent Car Seat Usage in Florida?

In the case that you were not involved in the car accident, you could potentially hold the person who was driving your child liable for failing to properly place your child in a car seat. Injury cases can often be filed against caregivers like nannies and babysitters for failing to properly use car seats to protect the children in their care.

Even for a short trip, children should still be properly secured in a car seat or child seat. Failing to do so can be incredibly dangerous and lead to serious injuries.

Failure to Use a Car Seat

If your child’s nanny or babysitter failed to put them in a car seat and was involved in a car accident, they could be on the hook for the damages related to the lack of a car seat. Even if they did not cause the crash themselves, they could be held liable for the portion of damages attributable to the lack of a car seat.

If they did cause the crash and your child was seriously injured because they were not in a car seat, then they could potentially be held liable for punitive damages. Punitive damages are additional damages ordered in an injury lawsuit to punish an at-fault party for serious negligence. The failure to properly seat your child in a car seat could potentially be enough to argue for punitive damages, but it is important to work with our Boca Raton car accident lawyers to fight to maximize damages in your case.

Improperly Securing Children in Car Seats

If the driver used a car seat but failed to properly secure the child, they could also be liable for the same extent of the damages. For example, a car seat that is simply not secured by a seat belt can potentially be even more dangerous than not putting the child in a car seat. Additionally, putting a child in a car seat that is far too big or too small for their age can also be dangerous, so caregivers who use an old car seat or fail to upgrade as the child grows could put the child’s safety at risk.

Suing Family Members for Failing to Use a Car Seat

In car accident cases where the child’s grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or even a co-parent was driving the car, it might be difficult to bring yourself to hold them accountable. In most cases, damages are paid by insurance rather than coming out of the driver’s pocket directly, so do not hesitate to contact our attorneys about bringing a case against any driver who failed to put your child safely in their car seat – even a family member.

Suing Car Seat Manufacturers for Defective Car Seats

If you did everything you could to properly secure your child in a car seat, but they were injured because of a dangerous or defective car seat, contact our Boca Raton car accident lawyers immediately. Our attorneys may be able to include the seller or manufacturer of the car seat in your lawsuit and hold them liable for the portion of the damages attributable to their own negligence.

These cases will often be complex because of the proof required in your case. First, we will often need to hire expert witnesses to reconstruct the car accident and opine on what percentage of the damages to attribute to the at-fault driver and what fault is attributable to the negligent car seat manufacturer. Additionally, we will need an expert to explain what flaws were present in the car seat’s design or manufacturing process and how these contributed to your child’s injuries.

Call Our Florida Car Accident Attorneys Today

If your child was injured in a car accident, call our South Florida car accident attorneys for a free case review. Call The Law Offices of David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A. today at (954) 568-3636.

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