Father is adjusting child's car seat, while kid is playing with toy binoculars. Side view

Across the nation, car accidents are the leading cause of death in children between the ages of 3 and 14. Research shows that the risk of injury and death decreases substantially when a child uses a car seat. That’s why many states, including Georgia, have implemented mandatory car seat laws. 

So, if you’re driving around Georgia with children in the vehicle, it’s important to make sure that you follow the state’s car seat laws. Here, our Atlanta car accident lawyers explain what you need to know. 

Breaking Down Georgia’s Car Seat Requirements

So, what does Georgia state law have to say about car seats? There are two primary requirements.

Kids Under 8 And Shorter than 57” Have to Sit in the Back

Airbag

Children are safest when they are sitting in the backseat of a vehicle. Why? The front passenger seat of modern vehicles is equipped with shoulder and lap belts and protected by airbags. While these are critical safety devices for adults, they pose a serious risk to children.

Seatbelts and airbags are designed and intended to protect healthy adults. When a child sits in the front seat, they can suffer serious seatbelt and/or airbag injuries. Airbags can even pose a risk of suffocation and death to small children when they deploy.

So, Georgia state law has a requirement that children under the age of 8 who are also less than 57 inches (just shy of five feet) tall must sit in the back seat of a vehicle. 

There are exceptions. If a vehicle doesn’t have a back seat, a child is permitted to sit in the front. However, they must be at least 40 pounds and be secured in a car seat or booster seat.

Even though Georgia’s laws only apply to kids until they’re 8 years old, it’s highly recommended to keep children in the back of the car until they’re at least 12 or 13.

Kids Under 8 Must Use a Child Restraint System

When a child under the age of 8 in a vehicle, they must be secured in an approved child restraint system that’s appropriate for their specific age, weight, and height. 

Rear-Facing Seat: Kids should be kept rear facing for as long as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids remain rear-facing for a minimum of two years. However, it’s ideal to keep a child rear-facing until they reach the height and weight limits for that position. In Georgia, children are only required to remain rear-facing until they are 12 months old.

Front-Facing Seat: Children in Georgia are permitted to sit in a front-facing car seat when they are one year old AND weigh at least 21 pounds. If a child is one year old and weighs 20 pounds or less, state law mandates that they remain in a rear-facing position. Again, it’s highly recommended to delay the transition from rear-facing to front-facing until the child has reached the weight and height limits for rear-facing as set by the car seat manufacturer. 

Booster Seat: In Georgia, a child is permitted to transition from a front-facing car seat to a booster seat when they weigh at least 40 pounds. Specifically:

  • Children between the ages of 1 and 7 may use a booster seat with a lap and shoulder; and
  • Children between the ages of 8 and 18 must use a booster seat with a lap and shoulder belt if they are less than 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Even though Georgia permits a child to transition to a booster seat at a young age, it is best to wait until a child has reached the weight and height limits of their front-facing car seat before doing so. 

Seatbelt

Seat Belt Only: Children are no longer required to use a child restraint system when they are at least eight years of age AND have reached a minimum height of 4 feet 9 inches. Note that it’s always best to keep a child in a booster seat until they can sit with their feet firmly on the ground without slouching. The seatbelt should fall across their lap (not their belly) and their sternum (not their neck). Check out the “five step test” to learn more.

Note that it’s the driver of the vehicle – not necessarily the parent – who is required to provide a child restraint system and ensure that children are situated in the seat properly.

Georgia Warns Against Gross Misuse of Car Seats

Child passenger safety is critically important. Kids are safest when they’re properly secured in a child restraint system. So, it’s not only important to have an age-appropriate child safety seat, but it’s also important to make sure that it’s installed and used properly.

Georgia specifically warns against the following types of “gross misuse” of car seats in the state:

  • Not anchoring the child restraint system to the vehicle with LATCH attachments or the vehicle’s safety belt
  • Failing to use the five-point harness or another harness system to secure a child into the seat
  • Forward-facing a child who is less than one year old, and
  • Positioning a rear-facing child in the front seat of a vehicle.

These mistakes significantly reduce the effectiveness of the child’s car seat. While these are the most egregious, they’re not the only mistakes that can put kids in danger. Other car seat mistakes include:

Loose Seats: When installed properly, car seats will be tight and secure. If a car seat is able to move around easily, it won’t provide the necessary protection for a child. How can you know if a seat is tight enough? Take your non-dominant hand and try to move the seat where it’s anchored into the vehicle. If it moves more than an inch, it’s too loose. 

Loose and Misaligned Harness: A harness only works when it’s fastened properly. This means that it fits snugly and is positioned correctly. There should be no slack in the harness near the crotch. The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level. The harness should be snug on the shoulders. If you’re able to pinch the harness material between two fingers, it’s too loose.

Letting a Child Wear a Coat: A harness works best when it is snug against a child’s body. That’s not possible when a child wears a heavy coat or jacket. Studies have shown that kids are much more likely to get hurt in an accident if they’re wearing a coat. So, try layering your kids, giving them a blanket, or investing in a jacket that’s specifically designed to work with your child’s car seat system.

Using an Expired or Damaged Seat: You might not know this, but car seats have an expiration date. Why? Over time, the materials used in the construction of the seat can degrade. This makes the seat less effective, putting a child at risk. While Georgia does not prohibit you from using a car seat that’s been damaged or involved in an accident, it is a risky choice. Any time a car seat is subject to excessive force or trauma, it’s reliability becomes unknown.

Unfortunately, it’s believed that car seat misuse is common. The CDC reports that 59 percent of car seats and 20 percent of booster seats are “misused in a way that could reduce their effectiveness.”

Why Are Car Seats So Important?

Child with broken hand

There is an abundance of research to show that children are much less likely to suffer a serious injury or die in a car accident if they’re in an age-appropriate restraint system. Here are some notable facts and statistics:

  • If a child is properly positioned in an appropriate car seat, rather than just wearing a seatbelt, they’re between 71 and 82 percent less likely to suffer an injury.
  • When a child between the ages of 4 and 8 uses a booster seat in conjunction with a seat belt – rather than just a seat belt – they’re 45 percent less likely to get hurt.
  • Children under the age of 4 are 75 percent less likely to die or suffer a severe injury in a car accident if they’re in a rear-facing car seat, rather than a forward-facing seat.
  • Using a car seat properly can reduce the risk of an infant’s death by 70 percent.
  • Using a car seat properly can reduce the risk of death for a toddler between the ages of 1 and 4 by 54 percent.

Sadly, it’s estimated that more than 618,000 children ride in a motor vehicle without an appropriate safety seat every year. Roughly 40 percent of those kids are believed to be unrestrained, as well. 

What Can I Do If My Child is Injured in a Car Accident in Atlanta?

Car seats significantly reduce the risk of a child’s injury and death. However, kids can still get hurt if your vehicle is involved in an accident. Plus, you shouldn’t have to pay for a new car seat out of your own pocket if someone else caused the crash. Fortunately, compensation might be available to you.

Hasner Law can help you learn about your legal options. To get started, all you have to do is give our Atlanta personal injury lawyers a call today to arrange a free consultation.