Carrying children in our cars is carrying our most precious cargo. We keep them safe at home with car seat laws, and it should be the same when we travel. But, regulations do vary from country to country, and within the United States, the laws vary by individual states. In some states regulations are laxer than the laws at home, in others they are more stringent.
Car Seats in Rental Cars
You must comply with the car seat laws of the state you collect your car plus any state you travel through. You could be prevented from leaving the car rental station if you do not. The renter must fit the car seat them-self. Lawsuits against staff/companies for ill-fitting seats are therefore prevented. As a result most people find that staff do not 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 varies by supplier. Currently these charges are as follows:
- Alamo/Enterprise/National: $6.99 per day capped at $70 per rental
- Avis/Budget: $13 per day capped at $65 per rental
- Dollar/Hertz/Thrifty: $14 per day capped at $98 per rental
All of these daily charges attract local (and possibly airport) taxes which add to the daily cost.
Child Car seats can be pre-ordered, and will be issued on arrival. Availability on arrival is not guaranteed.
Can I take my own Child Car Seat?
Car hire companies allow you to use your own car seats. However, European and Australian car seats are manufactured to different safety regulations than in the USA. This is not to say that one is better than the other, just different. These safety regulations are not compatible, so a car seat purchased in Europe or Australia is not recognised by the US Federal Government. Some states insist that any seat used must be approved by the Federal Government. Others do not. Taking your own seat runs the risk of a potential fine from police if it is noticed as non-compliant in a state that required compliance. It is up to the customer to decide on this issue.
What are the Child Car Seat Laws in the USA?
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 also 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 current law for each state and an interactive map 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*.