Wisconsin, like most states, has laws that require children of certain ages to be in specific kinds of car seats while riding in motor vehicles. Whether you are a Wisconsin resident or a visitor, you need to know the laws and comply with them.
Different Types of Car Seats
There are different types of car seats available to keep children safe, including:
- Rear-facing car seats. Rear-facing car seats are designed for infants who weigh between 5 and 20 pounds. These seats have a handle that allows you to detach the seat from the base and carry it with you.
- Convertible car seats. Convertible car seats can be rear-facing or forward-facing. They are designed for toddlers and young children who weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. Some models are made to handle weights up to 65 pounds.
- Booster seats. Depending on the model, a booster seat will hold a child 30 to 100 pounds. Booster seats are forward-facing and used with the vehicle’s installed seat belt.
- Combination car seats. A combination seat can be used as a five-point harness or a belt-positioned booster seat. They can hold children weighing between 20 to 100 pounds.
- Built-in car seats. Many vehicles are now equipped with an optional built-in car seat. Age and height limitations vary between the different manufacturers.
Knowing the different types of car seats will help you make the right decision when purchasing one for your child.
The Wisconsin Car Seat Laws and Requirements by Age
As of 2019:
- Children under the age of one. In Wisconsin, children under one-year-old or weighing less than 20 pounds must be in a rear-facing child seat in the back seat of the car.
- Children aged one to three. Children who are at least one-year-old and weigh at least 20 pounds but who are under four years old or weigh less than 40 pounds must be in either a forward-facing or rear-facing child seat in the back seat of the car.
- Children aged four to eight. Children who weigh less than 40 pounds should remain in a forward-facing car seat. Children who weigh between 40 and 80 pounds and are not more than 4 feet, 9 inches tall may be in a car seat or a booster seat.
There are no exemptions to Wisconsin car seat laws, and there are penalties for non-compliance with the law. If the child is younger than four years old, then the fine for non-compliance with Wisconsin’s car seat law is $175.30. If the child is between the ages of four and eight, then the fine for non-compliance is $150.10 for the first offense, $200.50 for the second offense, and $263.50 for the third and subsequent offenses.
American Academy of Pediatrics Car Seat Recommendations by Height and Weight
It is your legal obligation to comply with Wisconsin law. While it is not your legal obligation to comply with the American Academy of Pediatrics car seat recommendations, it is important to know what this large organization of doctors recommends for your child’s safety. As of 2018:
- Infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing car seats until they reach the maximum weight and height for their seats. For many babies, this will be at least two years.
- Toddlers and preschoolers should ride in front-facing car seats after exceeding the weight and height requirements for rear-facing car seats. They should remain in front-facing car seats with harnesses until they reach the weight and height requirements for these seats. Many seats accommodate children up to 65 pounds.
- School-age children who exceed the weight and height requirements for forward-facing car seats should ride in booster seats until they reach four feet, 9 inches, and they are eight to twelve years old.
- Children under the age of 13 should ride with a seat belt in the backseat of the car.
In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its guidelines to remove some specific age guidelines and focus on height and weight guidelines.
Car Seat Installation
Once you identify the right type of car seat, you need to install it correctly. This can be trickier than it seems. Statistics indicate that approximately three out of four car seats are either incorrectly installed or not used safely.
Your first step may be to consult the car seat manufacturer’s instructions. Instructions may vary from brand to brand. Therefore, it’s essential to comply with the manufacturer’s directions even if you’ve previously installed a car seat successfully.
Additionally, you may have an expert double-check your car seat installation by going to a local medical center, fire station, police department, community center, or health department.
Safe Kids Wisconsin maintains a list of places where you can make an appointment to have your car seat installed and a list of events where you can have your car seat installed without an appointment.
Car Seats in Other Vehicles and on Public Transportation
Wisconsin car seat laws do not just apply to parent vehicles. As a parent, you want to keep your child safe in your vehicle and every time your child is a passenger. For example, you may need to install a car seat in a grandparent’s or babysitter’s car if your child travels with another caregiver.
However, Wisconsin law does not require car seats on public transportation. Most buses and trains, for example, do not have seat belts or other ways to secure car seats. Taxis are also exempt from car seat requirements. However, many taxi cabs have seat belts, and you may consider using a car seat in a taxi even though it is not required by Wisconsin law.
Car Seats Prevent Many Car Accident Injuries
You may be a safe driver, but the other drivers on Wisconsin roads could put your child at risk of serious injury or death.
When used correctly, car seats significantly reduce the chances of a child being hurt or killed in a car accident, but they do not eliminate the risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car seat use reduces a child’s risk of injury by 71 to 82 percent, and booster seat use reduces a child’s risk of injury by 45 percent when compared with seat belt use alone.
If you have any questions about what kind of car seat your child should be in, please ask your child’s doctor or your local police department. Using a proper car seat or booster is not just a good idea—it’s the law in Wisconsin.