Booster seats are fitted on the back seats of cars, SUVs or trucks. They are for children who have outgrown car seats. Maryland booster seat laws require a seat at the very minimum is provided for all children under 8 years-old unless a child is over 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

When a child is riding in a booster seat, he or she uses the vehicle’s regular seat belt. A booster seat raises a child up ensuring the lap and shoulder belt are properly positioned across the child’s hips and chest.

A child who uses a regular seat as opposed to a booster seat would otherwise be in danger of internal damage during a crash from a seatbelt across his or her belly and neck.

Securing your child in a safe car seat may be the difference between life and death if you are involved in a serious auto accident in Maryland. Baltimore personal injury lawyer Randolph Rice invites you to keep reading for more information about child car seat safety and laws in Maryland.

Child Car Seat Safety Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the use of a properly fitted car seat reduces the risk of death to infants one-year-old or under by 71 percent and toddlers aged 1-4 who are strapped into passenger vehicles by 54 percent.

Using a booster seat for an older child reduces the risk of serious injury by 45 percent for children aged 4–8 years when compared to seat belt use alone.

Every year hundreds of children lose their lives in car wrecks, according to CDC. Thousands are injured. The agency states:

  • More than 663 children aged 12 years and under died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes in 2015. More than 121,350 were injured in 2014.
  • One study carried out by the government safety body found more than 618,000 children ages 0-12 rode in motor vehicles without the use of a child safety seat, a booster seat or even a seat belt at least some of the time during a one year of study.
  • Of the children 12 years and under who lost their lives in a crash in 2015, about 35 percent were not buckled up.

These alarming statistics provide a good reason for Maryland child seat laws. However, they are routinely flouted, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Booster Seat Laws in Maryland

Maryland’s child safety seat law requires children under 8-years-old to be secured in a federally approved child safety seat, states the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration.

The child restraint must be correct for the child’s size, age, and weight. Child safety seats include booster seats, infant seats, convertible seats, forward-facing seats, or another safety device which is federally approved for use by children in motor vehicles.

Before 2012, an old law allowed parents to let children graduate from booster seats when they weighed more than 65 pounds. Subsequent research found merely reaching the weight limit was not enough. A crash test video from the University of Michigan revealed if the seat belt fits too high the child is at risk from major injuries during an accident.

Maryland’s child safety seat laws are found in Maryland Transportation Article §22-412.2(d). The laws state any person “transporting a child under the age of 8 years in a motor vehicle shall secure the child in a child safety seat in accordance with the child safety seat and vehicle manufacturers’ instructions unless the child is 4 feet, 9 inches tall or taller.”

Maryland Safety Belt Laws for Children Under 16 Years of Age

In addition to the required child safety seat laws mentioned above, a child under the age of 16 must be secured in a child safety seat or a seat belt. Maryland Transportation Article §22-412.2(e) states subject to this law, “a person may not transport a child under the age of 16 years” unless the child is secured in:

  1. A child safety seat in accordance with the child safety seat and vehicle manufacturers’ instructions;
  2. A seat belt.

The Requirement for One Child Safety Belt per Child

Parents sometimes cut corners. If a safety belt is not working or too many children are in a vehicle, they may seek to strap more than one child in the same seat belt. This is an unlawful practice under state law.

According to Maryland Transportation Article 22-412.2(g), “a child safety seat or seat belt may not be used to restrain, seat, or position more than one individual at a time.”

When Must I Put My Child in a Car Seat in Maryland?

When a child outgrows his or her forward-facing seat, the child can be put in a booster seat. According to Safe Seats 4 Kids by AAA, a child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown the height or weight limit of their forward-facing harnesses, which is usually between 40 and 65 pounds.  A forward-facing seat should be fitted after a child no longer needs a rear-facing seat.

Parents should read their forward-facing car seat owner’s manual to determine maximum height and weight limits, and keep their children in a harnessed seat for as long as possible, states AAA.

Children at the booster seat stage are not yet ready for adult safety belts and should use belt-positioning booster seats until they are at least 4 foot 9 and between 8 and 12 years old.  Regular seat belts are designed for adults who weigh 165-pounds. You should not rush to get your child into an adult seat because of the greater potential for serious injury in a crash.

Under Maryland booster seat laws, a child can stop using a booster seat on their eighth birthday. Children under eight years of age may only use a regular seat belt if they are over 4 feet, 9 inches. There is no exemption based on a child’s weight.

What is the Minimum Age to Sit in the Front Seat of a Car in Maryland?

There is no set minimum age for a child to sit in the front seat of a car in Maryland. However, it is unlawful to place a rear-facing child in the front seat with an active airbag, states Maryland Department of Transportation. However, parents should keep their children in the back whenever possible.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents wait until a child is at least 13 years old, more than 100 pounds and taller than 4 feet 9 inches before he or she sits in the front seat.

If a child is borderline and a space is available on the back seat, experts say it is always the safest place to be. Front seat passengers are often at greater risk than passengers on the back seat. Head-on collisions are among the most deadly types of wrecks in Maryland and people in the front seat are most likely to be killed or seriously injured.

Although there are no specific laws relating to how old a child can be to travel in the front seat of a car in Maryland, parents should buckle all children under the age of 12 in the back seat states Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Airbags, which are found at the front of most cars, can kill young children riding in the front seat. Parents should never place a rear-facing car seat in front of a car’s airbag. The safest place to buckle children in an automobile is in the middle of the back seat, according to CDC.

Maryland’s child safety seat law requires that all children under 8 years old be secured in a federally approved child safety seat in accordance with the safety seat and vehicle manufacturers’ instructions unless the child is 4 feet, 9 inches or taller. The child restraint must be correct for the child’s size, age, and weight.

Do You Have to Wear a Seatbelt in the Back Seat of a Car in Maryland?

In Maryland, all drivers and passengers are required by law to wear seatbelts regardless of whether they are in the back or front of a car. Even passengers over the age of 16 must wear a seatbelt in the back seat. The state’s seatbelt laws with regard to drivers, passengers in the front seat, and backseat passengers under 16 are primary laws. A primary law means a police officer can pull you over if you are caught violating the seatbelt law, or if one of your backseat passengers is under 16 and is not wearing a seatbelt. The state’s seatbelt laws concerning backseat passengers over the age of 16 are secondary laws.

A police officer or a highway patrol officer can only pull you over if you are committing another violation. You are liable for a ticket for both the other violation and the seatbelt violation if you are not wearing a seatbelt in the back seat.

The Penalty for Violating Child Car Seat Laws in Maryland

Parents or others who fail to comply with Maryland’s child safety laws face a fine of $50 for a first offense.

A judge may waive the fine when a defendant who did not possess a child safety seat proves they acquired one before the hearing date and gives proof of acquisition of the seat to the court. On occasions, parents may be unsure if their children need to be strapped in a child safety seat. The uncertainty usually occurs with older and larger children.

Under a new seat belt law enacted in 2013 in Maryland, each person who is not buckled up may receive a ticket of $83 including court costs for not wearing a seatbelt. If any passenger under 16 years of age is not buckled up, the driver may receive a ticket for each offense.

For instance, if the driver is stopped and is not wearing a seatbelt, and a passenger under the age of 16 is also unrestrained, the driver may receive an adult seatbelt ticket of $83 for himself and a ticket of $83 for the passenger. Maryland front seat law only differs from back seat law in one respect; it is a primary offense for an adult to not wear a seatbelt in the front seat, but a secondary offense in the back seat.

A Quick Guide to Child Car Seats in Maryland

The type of seat your child requires is linked to his or her height and weight. Here are the seats you should fit in four scenarios.

  • A child weighs between 4 and 30 pounds and is 30 inches or less in height – rear-facing child seat with 5-point harness.
  • The child weighs between 22 to 30 pounds – Forward facing with 5-point harness
  • A child weighs between 30 to 65 pounds – High back booster with vehicle lap/shoulder seat belt.
  • A child weighs between 40 to 65 pounds – Backless booster with vehicle lap/shoulder seat belt. These are suggestions provided by manufacturer Graco. Parents should consult the user manual for their specific child safety seat.

Even if parents get the weight correct, they may not be sure about what kind of seat their child should be placed in.

Which Child Safety Seat is Right for My Child?

There are various styles and types of child safety seats on the market. They are broken down into three different categories:

  1. Rear-facing car seat;
  2. Forward facing car seat;
  3. Booster seat.

While there are three main categories, there are variations based on the manufacturer’s specifications that allow for different uses with each child safety seat.

Rear-Facing Car Seats

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that a child should ride in a rear facing child seat until he or she is 2-years old, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for the rear facing child car seat in their 2011 updated recommendations.

A study in the journal Injury Prevention highlighted the benefits of rear-facing car seats. The research found that children under the age of two are 75 percent less likely to be killed or to be seriously injured in a crash if they are rear-facing. Another study found riding in rear-facing seats to be five times safer than in forward-facing seats. Rear-facing car seats do a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants.

Most rear-facing car seat manufacturers recommend that children use a rear-facing child seat when they:

  • Weigh between 4 lbs and 30 lbs., and
  • Are taller than 30 inches.

If the child’s head is less than 1 inch below the top back of the child restraint the infant should be in a rear-facing seat.

Forward-Facing Car Seats

In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents to keep kids rear-facing seats up to the maximum limit of the car seat before switching to a forward-facing seat. One year and 20 pounds was cited as the minimum age and weight for flipping the seat. In its updated advice the AAP says infants should not be put in forward-facing car seats until they are at least two-years-old. Children should ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible. Typically, they should be in a forward facing car seat until they reach 4 years of age.

Back-Facing Versus Front-Facing Car Seat

It is easier for parents to interact with their children in front-facing car seats and to get them in and out of them. However, forward-facing car seats provide less protection for the infant’s head, neck and spine than back-facing seats, according to most research.

The traditional wisdom that rear-facing car seats are safer was questioned in a 2015 study in the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention. This research found that an infant-sized crash-test dummy registered serious head injuries when a rear-facing car seat pitched forward in a crash test.

The projected head injuries were more severe when the car seat was attached to the vehicle seat’s lower “LATCH” anchors compared with its seat belts. Experts maintain a rear-facing seat is safer because it distributes the force of a crash over a child’s whole body.

Booster Seats

Booster seats fit on the back seat of a car and are for children who have outgrown car seats. The child uses the vehicle’s regular seat belt. A booster seat raises a child up ensuring the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt are properly positioned across the child’s hips and chest. A smaller child would otherwise be in danger of internal damage during a crash from a seat belt across his or her belly and neck.

Research by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found the use of belt-positioning booster seats lowers the risk of injury to children between the ages of 4-8 years by 45 percent compared with the use of a seat belt alone.

A booster seat is intended to minimize the damage caused to internal organs or a spinal injury during a car crash.

How to Install a Child Safety Seat

Even when parents fit child safety seats, they may prove ineffective in an accident if they have been improperly installed.

Dr. Alisa Baer, an expert on car seats known as the “car seat lady” claims most children ride around with straps that are too loose. Parents are often afraid of hurting their children. Baer warns they are likely to suffer greater injuries in an accident if straps are poorly fitted. Parents should remove bulky clothing from their children and fit straps tightly.

Many parents also fail to use the LATCH system properly. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. LATCH is comprised of both the parts of the car seat and components in the vehicle.

No matter how a forward-facing car is fitted, the tether should always be used as well as the seat belt. However, some parents fail to use this extra precaution that anchors the seat in the event of a crash. If a forward-facing seat is installed with lower anchors, the tether should be used in addition to the lower anchors.

Fitting a child seat can be difficult and frustrating, especially for parents of new babies. Baer recommends parents get an expert to check that seats are fitted properly. Most police or fire departments have a trained expert who can check how a seat is fitted at no cost.  You can enter your location in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website to find the nearest technician who can check the safety of a child seat.

What is the Age for a Forward-Facing Car Seat in Maryland?

Infants should be put in rear-facing car seats. Although there is no law on the age for a forward-facing car seat in Maryland, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep kids facing backward up to the maximum weight limit of the car seat before switching to a forward-facing seat. One year and 20 pounds was cited as the minimum age and weight for flipping the seat.

In updated advice, the AAP said infants should not be placed in forward-facing car seats until they are at least two-years-old.

Children should ride in a seat with a harness as long as it’s feasible to do so. Typically, they should be kept in a forward-facing car seat until they reach 4 years of age.

When Should I Turn My Child Forward Facing in Maryland?

There is a lack of agreement about the safety of rear-facing children’s car seats versus forward-facing seats. The conventional wisdom is backward facing seats are safer and younger children should face the rear of the vehicle.

A safety bulletin from the State of Maryland states children should remain facing the rear of a vehicle as long as possible. All infants should ride rear-facing in back seats until they are at least one year of age and 20 pounds, it says.

Infants should remain rear-facing for as long as possible, up to the height and weight limit of the child restraint. A seat with a higher weight limit is often required if infants reach 20 pounds before their first birthday. However, some rear-facing seats have weight limits up to 35 pounds.

The traditional argument that rear-facing car seats are safer was questioned in a 2015 study in the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention. The research indicated an infant-sized crash-test dummy suffered blows to the head that would have translated to brain injuries in a child when a rear-facing car seat pitched forward during a crash test.

The potential head injuries were even more severe when the car seat was attached to the vehicle seat’s lower “LATCH” anchors as opposed its seat belts.

However, many experts maintain a rear-facing seat is safer because it distributes the force of a crash over a child’s entire body.

Can I Put My Three-Year-Old in a Booster seat in Maryland?

Most three-year-olds are not ready to ride in a booster seat in the car, SUV, van or truck even if they fit within the maker’s height and weight guidelines. It is best practice is to keep your child in a harnessed car seat until he or she is at least 40 pounds and is four-years-old, but preferably longer.

Even when Maryland booster seat laws are not specific, you should follow the advice of the seat manufacturers and safety agencies in relation to when you should use a booster seat.

Hire an Experienced Maryland Car Accident Injury Lawyer

Your child is precious cargo. Sadly, many children are injured and killed on the roads of Maryland every year. In some cases, parents may have failed to comply with car seat requirements and be in violation of Maryland booster seat laws.

Few scenarios are more harrowing than car accidents that cause injuries to children. If your child has been hurt in a car collision in Maryland, call an experienced Baltimore car accident injury lawyer today. Call the Law Offices of Randolph Rice at (410) RICE-LAW.