Iowa Code 321.446 makes it a simple misdemeanor to have a child who is not secured in a car seat as required by Iowa law travel in your car. The law applies to the driver of the vehicle, whether or not the driver is the parent.
What Iowa Law Specifically Requires
As of March 2019, Iowa law requires that:
- Children under age one and weighing less than 20 pounds be secured in a rear-facing child safety seat.
- Children aged one to six be secured in a child restraint system. This includes rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, and booster seats but does not include just a vehicle seat belt.
- Children aged six to eleven may either use a child restraint system or a vehicle safety belt.
All car seats and child restraint systems should be used according to the manufacturer’s directions and should be adequately secured to the vehicle.
What the American Academy of Pediatrics Says
While these are the legal guidelines in Iowa, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants and toddlers stay rear-facing until they are at least two years old.
After that, the group recommends that children use a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness for as long as possible, up to the highest height or weight allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer.
Children who have outgrown a forward-facing car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly. For most children, this occurs between the ages of 8 and 12, when they have reached a height of 4 feet 9 inches and can comfortably sit with their back against the vehicle seat back and their feet flat on the floor.
Why the Right Car Seat Is So Important
In 2016—the most recent year for which statistics are available—the lives of 328 children under five were saved by car seats.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Car seat use reduces the risk of a child’s car accident injury by approximately 71 to 82 percent compared to a seat belt alone.
- Booster seat use reduced the risk of a four to eight-year-old child’s car accident injury by approximately 45 percent compared to seat belt use alone.
When used correctly, car seats and booster seats protect your child from significant pain, life-long disability, and even death.
How to Pick a Car Seat
There are a lot of different car seats available for purchase. The different types of car seats include:
- Rear-facing car seats. Typically, these car seats are made for infants up to 20 pounds and have a five-point harness system to secure the child in the car seat.
- Forward-facing car seats. Forward-facing car seats also use a five-point harness system to secure the child in the car seat but are used for older babies, toddlers, and young children.
- Convertible car seats. Convertible car seats may be used rear-facing or forward-facing and still have five-point harness systems.
- Booster seats. Booster car seats may use a five-point harness system or the car’s regular seat belts. The booster seat positions the child so that the seatbelt fits appropriately.
You may be overwhelmed by the choices. As you decide how best to protect your child from being hurt or killed in a car crash, you may consider:
- Consumer reviews
- The manufacturer’s recommended height and weight for the seat
- How the car seat will fit in your vehicle
- How easy the car seat is to install
- How easy the car seat is to move from vehicle to vehicle if this is a concern for you
After you choose a car seat, it must be installed correctly in your vehicle.
Car Seat Installation
Whichever car seat you buy will need to be installed properly so that it can protect your child. You can ensure a safe car seat installation by:
- Reviewing the instructions that came with the car seat
- Reviewing the car seat installation tips and videos on the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website
- Making sure that the car seat cannot move more than one inch in any direction after it is secured
- Having your car seat inspected by a certified car seat technician at your local police station or a car seat safety event
Car seat installation varies between different car seat models and different vehicles. However, car seats should always be secured in the back seat of your car and never near an active airbag.
What to Do After a Car Seat Has Been in an Accident
Car seats can be damaged in moderate and severe car crashes, even if the damage is not visible. To protect your child, the NHTSA recommends replacing the car seat after any accident that:
- Causes visible damage to the car
- Causes airbags to deploy
- Results in passenger injuries
- Damages the car door closest to the car seat
- Prevents the car from being driven away from the crash.
If none of these things are true, then you may not need to replace the car seat. However, if any of these things are true or if you have any concerns about the car seat’s integrity after an accident, then you should replace the car seat.
Even the Best Car Seat Can’t Prevent All Injuries
Car seat laws are not just helpful tips for drivers, and complying with Iowa car seat laws is about much more than avoiding a potential fine for violating the law. Instead, these laws are about protecting your child from injury or death in a car crash.
Car seats effectively prevent many, but not all, accident injuries and fatalities. If your child is in a car accident, then you should make sure that your child gets prompt medical attention and follows the doctor’s recommended treatment plan
If you have any questions about what other steps to take after your child is hurt in a car crash, please start a live chat with our Iowa car accident law firm or call us at any time.