Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Law
New Jersey’s child passenger safety law requires:
Children under 8 years of age who weigh less than 80 pounds to ride properly secured in a child safety seat or booster seat in the rear seat of the vehicle. If there is no rear seat, the child may sit in the front seat, but s/he must be secured by a child safety seat or booster seat.
(Note: A rear-facing infant seat should never be placed in a front seat with a passenger-side airbag unless the vehicle is equipped with an air bag on/off switch. For more information about child safety seats and air bags consult Advisory on Airbags and Passenger Sensing Systems.)
- Children under 8 years of age who weigh more than 80 pounds to ride properly secured in a seat belt.
- Passengers 8 to 18 years of age (regardless of weight) ride properly secured in a seat belt.
The four steps to child passenger safety can help ensure that young passengers are kept safe from harm.
1 – Rear Facing Seats
For the best possible protection, keep infants in the back seat, in rear-facing child safety seats, up to the maximum height or weight limit mandated by the child safety seat manufacturer (this information can be found on a label affixed to the seat and in the seat owner’s manual). Parents should keep infants rear-facing until s/he is at least one year of age and 20 pounds.
2 – Forward Facing Seats
When children out grow their rear-facing seats (at a minimum age of one and at least 20 pounds), they should ride in forward-facing, child safety seats in the back seat, up to the maximum height or weight limit mandated by the child safety seat manufacturer (this information can be found on a label affixed to the seat and in the seat owner’s manual), which is usually no younger than age 4 and when they weigh at least 40 pounds.
3 – Booster Seats
Once children outgrow their forward-facing seats (usually no younger than age 4 and when they weigh at least 40 pounds), they should ride in a booster seat, in the back seat, until the vehicle seat belts fit properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt fits across the chest (usually at age 8 or when they are 4’9” tall).
4 – Seat Belts
When children outgrow their booster seats, (usually at age 8 or when they are 4’9” tall), they can use the adult seat belt in the back seat, if it fits properly (when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt fits across the chest). Adults should set a good example for children by buckling up, every ride, whether they are riding in a front or rear seat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q – My son is 7 years old and weighs 83 pounds. Is he required to ride in a booster seat?
A – No. When a child reaches 80 pounds, s/he is no longer required to ride in a booster seat, but must be secured in a properly adjusted seat belt.
Q – My daughter is 8 years old but only weighs 76 pounds. Does she need a booster seat?
A – No. Once a child is 8 years of age, s/he no longer needs to ride in a booster seat, but s/he must be secured in a properly adjusted seat belt.
Note: While the children described above are exempt from the booster seat law, the seat belt may not fit them properly. The lap belt should lay across the child’s upper thigh (the pant’s pocket area) and across the chest and collar bone (so that it’s not cutting into the neck).
Q – I’ve read that some safety experts recommend all children under 4’9” tall should ride in a booster seat, yet New Jersey law requires only those up to age eight or 80 pounds to ride in a booster seat. What should I do?
A – When New Jersey implemented the nation’s first 8/80 booster law in 2001, it was viewed as a dramatic improvement in child passenger safety. At that time, most booster seats were rated for use by children only up to 80 pounds. Many are now rated for use by children up to 100 pounds or more. The federal government now recommends a booster seat for all children up to 4’9” tall, which is considered the minimum height for a passenger to be properly restrained by a seat belt. Booster seats must be used with a lap/shoulder belt. They should never be used with just a lap belt because a child is not fully protected.
Q – How can I determine if my child will be properly protected by the vehicle’s seat belt?
A – Use the seat belt fit test on all children under 13 years of age to be sure they are big enough to safely use the adult seat belt without a booster seat.
- Have the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat. Check to see if the knees bend naturally at the seat edge. If they do, continue the test. If they do not – the child should continue to ride in a booster seat.
- Buckle the lap and shoulder belt. Be sure the lap belt lies across the upper legs (the pant’s pocket area). If it lays across the upper thighs, move on to the next step. If it does not, the child should continue to ride in a booster seat.
- Be sure the shoulder belt lies on the shoulder or collarbone (and is not cutting into the neck). If it lies on the shoulder, move to the next step. If it is on the face or neck, the child should continue to ride in a booster seat. DO NOT place the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the child’s back!
- Be sure that your child can maintain the correct seating position for as long as you are in the car. If your child begins to slouch or shift position so the safety belt contacts the face, neck, or abdomen, the child should continue to ride a booster seat until all the steps can be met.
Q – My older vehicle has a lap belt only in the center rear seat. My new car has a lap and shoulder belt in the center. Why are they different?
A – Lap and shoulder belts are standard equipment for all seating positions in many vehicles manufactured after 2006, and all vehicles manufactured after 2008. Studies have shown that lap belts are not as effective as lap and shoulder belts in preventing injuries in car crashes. Back seat lap belts reduce the risk of head injuries while increasing the risk of abdominal injuries in potentially fatal frontal crashes. Lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of head and abdominal injuries in potentially fatal front crashes by 47 and 52 percent, respectively. A lap and shoulder belt system restrain the upper body and head from forward movement better than a lap belt only. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards have changed based on these findings.
Q- What remedies are available for safely restraining children in vehicles equipped only with lap belts in a rear seating position? I know that I cannot use a booster seat in that seating position because a booster seat requires a lap and shoulder belt.
A – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends retro-fitting vehicles with lap and shoulder belts, if possible. (Consult a car dealer for assistance in determining if your vehicle’s lap belts can be retrofitted.) There are also many forward facing child safety seats available with an internal harness that can be used for children weighing more than 40 pounds -many are rated to 80 pounds. The most important thing to remember is that a booster seat cannot be used solely with a lap belt, but a lap belt can secure a forward facing child seat with an internal harness.