Pop quiz: Do you know when you’re supposed to switch from a rear-facing baby car seat to a forward-facing one? How about how long you should keep your older children riding in a booster? It’s beyond important to know the ins and outs of NJ car seat law.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children stay in rear-facing car seats until they are 2, the New Jersey law has only mandated they face backwards until the age of 1. But that’s all changed, according to a new law signed this month. The new rules, which take effect September 1, require babies to stay in rear-facing car seats with five-point harnesses until they’re 2 years old and weigh 30 pounds. Older kids must stay in five-point harness car seats or booster seats until they’re 8 years old and 57 inches tall. The just-passed state law is now in line with guidelines set forth by the AAP.
And New Jersey lawmakers mean business. Parents and caregivers who don’t abide by the latest requirements will face fines of between $50 and $75.
So yes, even if your little one’s legs are long and seem to be squished up against the backseat, they still have to sit backwards in their car seats until they meet the law’s age and size requirements. Once toddlers are turned around, they need to be in front-facing car seats with five-point harnesses until they’re 4 years old or weigh 40 pounds. They can then be moved to boosters.
What this means, New Jersey moms and dads, is that you can no longer claim you were following the height and weight requirements of your car seat manufacturer if you’re stopped for violating the law.
State legislators say the change was necessary because the old rules were too vague and outdated. The AAP and other experts say the chance of a small child dying in a car crash is reduced significantly by keeping him in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible.
The state’s front seat guidelines are different, too. If you don’t have a back seat, NJ car seat law says that your child can ride in the front seat if they’re in a car seat or booster seat. The vehicle’s passenger-side airbag must be disabled or shut off if your child is using a rear-facing car seat strapped into the front seat. The force of the car’s airbags can seriously injure small children upon deployment.