Occupant Safety Program Frequently Asked Questions


Child Occupant Safety Law

   1. Question: What is the Texas law for child passenger safety?

Answer: All children younger than 8 years old, unless taller than 4’9”, are required to be in the appropriate child safety seat system wherever they ride in a passenger vehicle. The safety seat system MUST be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Another way of saying this is: When a child reaches their 8th birthday – no matter their height, it is legal for the child to use only the adult safety belt in the passenger vehicle.

However, the best safety practice is: if the child is not yet 4’9”, they are better protected if they continue to use the appropriate child safety seat system until they can properly fit in the adult safety belt.


   2. Question: What is defined as a passenger vehicle?

Answer: A "passenger vehicle" is a passenger car, sport utility vehicle, truck, light truck, truck tractor or a passenger van designed to transport 15 or fewer occupants, including the driver. (Buses are not included in this definition)


   3. Question: What is defined as a child passenger safety seat system?

Answer: An infant or child passenger restraint system that meets the federal standards for crash-tested restraint systems as set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Examples: rear-facing only safety seat, convertible safety seat, forward-facing only safety seat, high-back booster seat, backless booster seat, safety vest/harness.


   4. Question: Is it legal to allow a child to ride in the front seat?

Answer: Texas law does not specify where in the vehicle a child is required to ride – BUT – the law does require that all child safety seat systems must be used according to the owner’s manuals. ALL rear-facing seats are prohibited from being used on the front seat of the vehicle if there is a passenger air bag. The only way the rear-facing safety seat can be legally and properly installed on the front seat of a single-cab vehicle is to manually turn the air bag to the “off” position. If your vehicle has “smart” airbags designed to deactivate or depower themselves based on information received by sensors in the front seat – these types of airbags are designed to accommodate small adults – not for the installation of child safety seats. Also, some manufacturers prohibit using their products in certain seating positions of different vehicles. Children are safer if they ride properly restrained in the back seat than if they are in the front seat. Follow the vehicle manufacturers’ requirements and recommendations to keep all children 12 years old and younger properly restrained in the back seat. A multi-year research study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics in trauma rooms across the U.S. determined that children younger than 13 years old who are sitting in the front seat during crashes receive far more traumatic and fatal injuries than the same age group of children riding properly restrained in the back seat when the vehicle is involved in a crash.


   5. Question: May I install a safety seat or booster seat on the side-facing or rear-facing vehicle seats in my vehicle?

Answer: No, Texas law requires all child safety seat systems to be installed according to the manufacturers’ instructions and all manufacturers prohibit installing safety seat systems on side-facing or rear-facing vehicle seats.


   6. Question: Can child safety seat systems be used again after they have been involved in a crash?

Answer: Texas law requires all child safety seat systems to be installed according to the manufacturers’ instructions.  Please consult the owner’s manual for the safety seat system and follow their instructions – the majority of manufacturers require that the product be destroyed and replaced when it has been in a moderate to severe crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed guidelines to assist safety seat owners in determining if the crash may have compromised the integrity of the safety seat system.


   7. Question: Are any passenger vehicles exempt from the child passenger safety law?

Answer: Yes – vehicles for hire: taxi cabs, limousines, hired shuttles, public transit buses and also passenger vehicles in which all seating positions equipped with safety seat systems and safety belts are occupied.


   8. Question: Are child safety seat systems required in recreational vehicles (RVs)?

Answer: An RV does not meet the definition of a passenger vehicle as defined in the Texas statute 545.412. Texas law requires all child safety seat systems to be installed according to the manufacturers’ instructions. All child safety seats must be installed on vehicle seats that are oriented forward-facing – they cannot be installed on a vehicle seat that faces the side or rear of the vehicle. Most of the passenger seating positions in an RV are either side-facing or rear-facing and cannot be used to install a safety/booster seat. Also, the seating positions in an RV, if they have safety belts, are not crash-tested for the installation of child safety seats – they are only to be used to secure passengers sitting directly on the vehicle seat.

It is recommended that if you wish to travel with children who should be riding in a child safety seat system, have an adult drive the children in a passenger vehicle, in properly installed safety/booster seats, and meet up with the occupants of the RV when the RV stops for breaks.


   9. Question: I own a licensed day/child care facility and transport children in vans and buses. Does the child passenger safety law apply to me?

Answer: YES, if you transport children is a vehicle that meets the definition of a passenger vehicle (see above) - you must comply with the law.

NO, if you transport children in a vehicle that does not meet the definition of a passenger vehicle.

BUT – in both vehicles you must follow the transportation requirements set by your licensing agency (Department of Family and Protective Services).


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Child Safety Seat Questions

   1. Question: Where do I go to have my car/booster seat checked, get assistance in learning how to use it, or to have hands-on experience with a certified technician?

Answer: A national list of certified child passenger safety technicians is found at:
National CPS Certification. Click on the link “Find A Technician”.


   2. Question: When may I turn my baby from rear-facing to forward-facing?

Answer: You must follow the requirements of the manufacturer of the safety seat you use and your child must meet all of the age/height/weight requirements for the type of safety seat you want to use. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ position statement in the April 2011 publication, Pediatrics, children are better protected the longer they can ride in a rear-facing safety seat, up to and beyond, two years old if possible. If your child has reached the upper weight or height limit of their infant seat, the next seat for that child is a convertible safety seat – installed rear-facing. The convertible safety seat will have a deeper seat area to allow children to ride rear-facing for a longer period of time. Various safety seats have rear-facing limits of 30, 33, 35 and 40 pounds. Seats designed to be installed forward-facing have minimum age/height/weight requirements – please read the owner’s manual for correct information on your particular safety seat system.


   3. Question: What about the possibility of my baby breaking their foot or ankle bones while riding rear-facing up to age two?

Answer: The national research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that children have not suffered from broken bones in their feet, ankles or legs due to their feet touching the back of the vehicle seat when riding rear-facing. What the research did show is that when babies are turned forward-facing too soon, prior to their second birthday, they have a greater risk of rupturing or severing their spinal cord in the event of a crash. These types of injuries can be fatal, or if the child survives, may result in partial or total paralysis. Children are safer the longer they can ride properly restrained in a rear-facing safety seat.


   4. Question: When may I place my child in a booster seat?

Answer: Booster seats were originally designed to be used when a child weighed more than 40 pounds – usually four-five years old. If your child has reached 40 pounds before their fourth birthday, and has outgrown the maximum weight limit of the currently used safety seat, you may want to consider using a safety seat with a higher-weight limit harness. You need to take into consideration the child’s age, weight, height and behavior maturity before making the decision to transition the child to a booster seat. If your child reaches four years old before 40 pounds – they would be better protected if they continued to use the five-point harness safety seat until they meet either the upper weight limit, or outgrow the safety seat by height. Always refer to the owner’s manual for the minimum and maximum age/height/weight requirements and limits. Remember that the booster seat uses only the vehicle’s adult safety belt to restrain the child.


   5. Question: What if my child is less than 8 years old and less than 4’9” – but doesn’t fit in a booster seat?

Answer: Check with various booster seat manufacturers to see if a new seat has been released into the market that will accommodate your child, many seats now have higher weight limits and wider seat cushions.  If not, there are safety vests/harnesses systems available that will allow you to be able to protect your child in the vehicle and comply with the law. A list of child passenger safety seat system manufacturers is found here.


   6. Question: When may my child stop using a booster seat and use only the adult safety belt?

Answer: Texas law requires all children younger than 8 years old, unless taller than 4’9”, to be in the appropriate child safety seat system. Once the child is 8 years old, they are not legally required to be in a child safety seat system – but – if the child is not yet 4’9” tall they would be better protected if they continued to use the appropriate child safety seat system until they can properly fit the adult safety belt. Safety belts are part of the safety equipment in the vehicle – and they are designed for adults who are at least 4’9” tall – not children. The best way to describe the difference in the fit is to use this comparison: When a child/youth plays sports, they wear protective gear for that sport. The gear they wear is designed for the youth athlete – not the adult athlete. Adults who play sports wear the proper safety equipment sized for their body/frame – not equipment that is too large or too small for them. Explain to an 8 year old child that is not yet 4’9” tall that the safety equipment built into the vehicle is for adults – not children, and a child needs to continue to use the proper equipment (booster seat) so that the adult equipment will fit, and be able to protect, their bodies in the event of a crash.


   7. Question: May I use booster seats in passenger vans or buses?

Answer: Booster seats require an adult lap/shoulder belt for proper use – they can only be used in passenger van seating positions that have this type of safety belt. Booster seats CANNOT be used in school buses and school bus-type vehicles – this is a mandate from the manufacturers of bus seats used in school buses.


   8. Question: My vehicle has lap/shoulder belts – may I use a backless booster seat?

Answer: Yes if the vehicle is a passenger vehicle, but the backless booster seat has an extra requirement – the mid-point of the back of the child’s head may not be above the vehicle seat back. If your vehicle does not have head protection in the seating position where you want to place the booster seat – you must use a high-back booster.


   9. Question: What about inserts, extra padding, toys, seat saver mats, mirrors, etc. sold to be used with my child’s safety/booster seat – are they legal?

Answer: Texas law requires all child safety seat systems to be installed according to the manufacturers’ instructions. There are no federal crash test requirements/regulations for these products and many safety seat manufacturers prohibit using them with their safety seat systems. The use of such non-regulated products may affect the way safety seats perform in a crash, so please consult your safety/booster seat owner’s manual for information prior to using these products.


   10. Question: What is the best seat on the market?

Answer: The best seat is the one that fits your child’s age, weight, height and behavioral maturity, can be properly installed in your vehicle and will be used correctly every time the child rides in it. All safety seat systems must pass the same crash test requirements for each type of seat.


   11. Question: Do car/booster seats expire?

Answer: Yes, child safety seat systems do have a life-span. If the manufacturer did not print an expiration date onto the seat, or mold it into the shell on the back of the seat, then the expiration date is six (6) years from the date of manufacture. The manufacture date is required to be on a label on the seat. Please contact the safety seat manufacturer for expiration dates of their products.


   12. Question: How do I know if my seat is on recall?

Answer: There are several ways to check to see if your safety seat is on a recall – contact the manufacturer via phone or internet, check the NHTSA website, or contact a certified child passenger safety technician for assistance.


   13. Question: What if I can’t afford a safety seat – is there any way to get assistance in Texas?

Answer: Contact the Department of State Health Services, Safe Riders Program, for more information. 1-800-252-8255


   14. Question: I have questions about my particular safety seat – what do I do?

Answer: The first action should be to call the customer service department for manufacturer of your safety seat. All manufacturers are required to put their contact information on the labels of the safety seats. You may also find information and instructional videos on the manufacturer’s website.

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Safety Belt Questions

   1. Question: My child is 8 years old, how do I know if the adult safety belt properly fits my child?

Answer: There is a simple 5-step test for determining proper fit of the adult safety belt.
Buckle your child into a lap/shoulder belt and look for these things:

  1. Does he/she sit all the way back against the seat?
  2. Do his/her knees bend easily at the edge of the seat?
  3. Does the shoulder belt cross over the center of the shoulder and chest?
  4. Is the lap belt low, across the tops of the thighs?
  5. Can he/she stay seated like this for the entire trip?

If you answered “no” to any of these, your child does not properly fit the adult safety belt and may still need a booster seat.


   2. Question: Do all passengers have to wear a safety belt?

Answer: Yes, all occupants of a passenger vehicle are required to be in either the appropriate child safety seat system (if they are required under Statute 545.412) or in the adult safety belt, used according to the manufacturers’ instructions, as long as there is an open seating position available equipped with a safety belt.


   3. Question: Is it legal to buckle a safety belt around two occupants?

Answer: No, Texas law requires all safety belts to be worn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The owner’s manual to your vehicle will give instructions for the proper use of the adult safety belts.


   4. Question: I have more occupants than safety belts for my vehicle - may someone ride in the back cargo area?

Answer: Texas law requires all occupants to wear the adult safety belts if there is an open seating position available equipped with a safety belt. The cargo area is not a seating position and is only to be used for cargo – not occupants.


   5. Question: The shoulder portion of the belt rubs on my and/or my child’s neck or face. May I place it behind my back or under my arm?

Answer: No, Texas law requires all safety belts to be worn according to the manufacturer’s instructions – please refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for instructions on the proper use of the adult safety belt.


   6. Question: May I use a shoulder belt adjuster/cover to keep the shoulder portion of the belt off of my/my child’s neck or face?

Answer: Texas law requires all safety belts to be worn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Please consult the owner’s manual for your vehicle to see if the manufacturer allows these types of products to be used as many of the manufacturers prohibit adding anything to the safety belt. There are no federal crash test requirements for these products, and their use is not allowed as a substitute for the child safety seat system required for children according to Texas statute 545.412.


   7. Question: How do I secure a child in vehicles with lap-only belts?

Answer:

  1. There are safety seats that have a higher weight limit on the harness – from 50 - 90 pounds – one of these types of seats would meet the legal requirement and can be installed using the lap belt.
  2. Another option is to use a safety vest or harness – they can be used with a lap-only belt – BUT – they also require a tether anchor to be installed so the shoulder portion of the vest can be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Contact the service department of your vehicle’s manufacturer for more information.
  3. A shoulder belt may be able to be retro-fitted into the seating position where your child sits so a booster seat can be properly used – contact the service department of your vehicle’s manufacturer for more information.

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LATCH Questions

   1. Question: What is LATCH?

Answer: LATCH is a system made up of two components: anchors in the vehicle and attachments on the safety seats. It is a system that allows a safety seat to be properly installed without using the vehicle safety belts.


   2. Question: May I use the LATCH system and the vehicle safety belts together to install a safety seat?

Answer: NO – use one system or the other – never use both at the same time on a safety seat. Always follow the instructions for both the safety seat and the vehicle when installing safety seat systems.


   3. Question: What’s the top strap on a safety seat?

Answer: The top strap on a child safety seat is the top tether strap. Its use will greatly decrease the movement the top of a safety seat during a crash. Always refer to the owner’s manuals of both the safety seat and the vehicle for proper use of a tether strap for forward-facing seats.


   4. Question: Where may I go to learn more about LATCH?

Answer: You may access more information about LATCH on the NHTSA website.


Air Bag Questions

   1. Question: Am I allowed to disable my driver or passenger air bag?

Answer: You must follow the instructions and procedures set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to have an on/off switch installed for either the driver or passenger air bag.
See: NHTSA website


National Recommendations for Safe Transportation for Children

   1. Question: What is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ National Guidelines for child passenger safety?

Answer:

American Academy of Pediatrics

  1. Rear-Facing Seat: Children stay rear-facing up to two years old or as long as possible – to the upper weight limits of the harness.
  2. Forward-Facing Seat: After age two+ years, children may transition from a rear-facing to a forward-facing safety seat with a five-point harness as long as possible, through four years of age, or until they reach the maximum weight or height of the harness.
  3. Booster Seat: After reaching the maximum weight or height limit of the harnessed seat, children should use a booster seat with the adult lap/shoulder belt until they are 4’9” tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.
  4. Adult Safety Belt: From 4’9” and taller.

Children should ride properly restrained in the rear seat until they are 13 years old.


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