Child Car Seat Laws in the United States
Carrying children in our cars is carrying our most precious cargo. We keep them safe in our home countries with child car seat laws, and it should be no different when we travel abroad. But, regulations do vary from country to country, and within the United States, the laws vary by individual states. In some states you may find that regulations are laxer than the laws at home, in others you may find them more stringent.
Car Seats in Rental Cars
You will be required to comply with the relevant car seat safety laws of the state you have hired your car in and may even be prevented from leaving the car rental station if you are not. You will also be expected to comply with any state you may be driving through. However, the staff from the car hire company will not fit the seats for you any more, this must be done by the person hiring the car. This is to prevent any lawsuits should the car seat be incorrectly fitted. Most people will find that staff will not even offer any advice or direction for the same reason!
Should I Hire a Car Seat?
There are cost implications for hiring a child car seat to consider, the daily charge does vary by supplier. Currently these charges are as follows:
- Alamo/National: $6.99 per day capped at $70 per rental
- Avis/Budget: $13 per day capped at $65 per rental
- Dollar/Thrifty: $13.99 per day capped at $91 per rental
All of these daily charges will also attract local (and possibly airport) taxes which will add to the daily cost.
Apart from cost, you should also consider the seat that you will be hiring. The child seats are usually of one particular kind, lined these days with material. Many years ago when we hired a baby car seat for my eldest son we found it was hard formed plastic with a ‘wipe-clean’ leather look plastic covering. There was no cushioning (he was just 4 months old) and the plastic just superheated whenever the car was parked. It was simply awful. It should be a good thing that these seats are now material lined and look to have cushioning. Except that, we all know what happens in car seats, and quite frankly they don’t always look as though they are hygienically cleaned between uses.
Not all companies have all the relevant car seats either. For example, Dollar and Thrifty only stock the middle sized, forward facing car seats. Not the rear facing infant car seats or booster seats for older children.
Finally, although you may pre-order, or reserve a child car seat with your car hire reservation, this won’t really mean much when you arrive. The locations just carry a selection of car seats and you will be issued with one when your rental agreement pops up on their computer that it is needed. There will not be a seat ready with your name on it.
Can I take my own Child Car Seat?
I think that taking your own car seat makes perfect sense, and after my experience above, this is what we did throughout our children’s requirement for car seats. Airlines currently carry car seats for free, as part of your luggage allocation. On a purely practical level, you will be using the car seats to get your child/ren to the airport, simply take them out of the car along with your luggage, make sure all the straps are secured and then go and check it/them in with your suitcases. At the other end, the car seat comes out with your luggage and then goes straight into your hire car. The car hire companies are quite happy for you to use your own seats, and for younger children, they will be reassured by the presence of their own seat in this ‘new’ car.
My tip for checking the seat in is to take a black bin liner and some tape in the car and quickly seal the car seat into the black bag. This keeps all of the straps from getting caught anywhere, and provides some protection from dirt for the seat.
What are the Child Car Seat Laws in the United States?
All of the states within the United States have set ages or heights/weights within which children must be restrained by child restraints. Many states then have a minimum age or height/weight at which a child may use an adult safety belt. There may also be a state restriction to the age at which a child can travel in the front seat. In fact, attention should be paid to the instructions in the car. If there is an air-bag that is operational in the front passenger seat, then the generally accepted rule is that children under 12 years old should not be in the front seat. They can be seriously injured in the event of an accident which causes the air-bag to deploy, even if they would not have been injured by the actual accident.
Broadly speaking, children should be in rear-facing infant seats until they are 1 year or 20 pounds in weight. Children should be in forward facing car seats between 20 pounds and 40 pounds or 4 years. Children aged 5 – 7 years, or shorter than 57 inches, or less than 60 pounds, should use a booster seat to make the adult safety seat fit them properly. These are averages, distilled from individual state requirements. The precise law for each state can be seen at The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In the chart below we have grouped together the states with similar car seat safety requirements*.
*Florida Law has been changed in 2014, and from January 2015, all children up to and including the age of 5 years must be restrained in an car seat appropriate for their size.