Jurisdictions throughout the United States implement car seat laws to keep your child safe. While some of these rules are actually laws, others are merely suggestions. The American Academy of Pediatrics has plenty of recommendations when it comes to car seats, and they can be quite overwhelming.
If you’re a resident of Illinois, or you’re simply traveling through, here’s what you should know about the laws in the state as well as some advice that you may want to heed if you plan to keep your child safe in the car.
Rear-facing car seats are meant to be used for newborns and children up to two years of age. They position your child in a five-point harness facing the back of the car. They’re much safer than forward-facing car seats and have additional padding that helps protect their little bodies from impact.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends your child stay in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least two years of age, not every state has implemented this suggestion as a law.
In Illinois, your child is required by law to ride in a rear-facing car seat until he is at least two years old. The only exception to this is if your child is already at least 40 pounds or at least 40 inches tall.
It is recommended in all states that, even if your child is older than two, they remain in the rear-facing car seat for as long as they fit. After all, it’s still the safest option. However, if your child is two years old, they may be legally turned around.
Forward Facing Seats
By the time your child is old enough to turn around, you still need to ensure they are riding in the right car seat for their age, weight, and height. Not all two-year-olds are the same size, so it’s important to turn them around safely. The first step is to switch them to a forward-facing car seat with a harness system. This harness system is what continues to keep your child safe.
Illinois law states that your child should remain in their rear-facing car seat for as long as possible until they reach the upper height and weight restrictions of their car seat.
Some forward-facing car seats keep your child in a reclined position, much like rear-facing car seats, while other forward-facing car seats allow your child to sit completely upright. These are like high-back booster seats and convert easily to a booster later.
Forward-facing car seats are generally recommended for children ages 4-8. The type of forward-facing car seat you choose is up to you and what you think your child is ready to handle. Both are acceptable by Illinois law and both have five-point harness systems.
Boosters come in all shapes and sizes. Boosters are meant to be worn with a lap belt and shoulder harness. It is recommended that your child ride in a forward-facing car seat until they reach the upper height and weight restrictions of their forward-facing car seat, at which point they may be transitioned to a booster.
While Illinois law does not place an age, height, or weight requirement on transitioning to a booster seat, it is important that you only switch your child to a booster seat after they have outgrown their forward-facing seat.
In order to ensure your child is safe in a booster seat, they need to be mature enough to understand how to wear their seatbelt and keep it on for the entire car ride. If your child can ride with the lap belt across their upper thighs and wear the shoulder strap across their chest and shoulder, they may be big enough for a booster seat.
While any type of booster seat is acceptable, a high-back booster seat adds extra head and neck support and also helps to position the shoulder belt so that it fits across your child’s chest and shoulder appropriately.
No matter which type of booster seat you choose, always make sure the lap belt isn’t across the stomach and the shoulder strap doesn’t rub their neck or check.
Your child may be ready to graduate to riding in the vehicle seat without a booster if they can properly fit in an adult lap and shoulder belt. The lap belt should be worn across the upper thighs and the shoulder strap should fit across the shoulder.
Your child should be able to ride with his back and hips against the back of the seat without slouching. Their knees should bend over the front of the seat and feet should sit flat on the floor.
It is not recommended that your child ride without a booster until at least of age eight, unless they are already tall enough to sit as an adult. Booster seats are always the safest way for a child to ride. Children should always remain in the backseat until at least age 12.
Riding in the Front Seat
The back seat will always be the safest place for children. The back seat is the safest place to be in any vehicle. However, at age 12, children can graduate to the front seat if they can sit properly in an adult seat with an adult lap and shoulder belt.
Sitting in the front seat is only permissible if there is no other place for your child to sit safely. Times when it’s acceptable to put your child in the front seat include:
- If your vehicle has no backseat
- If your vehicle doesn’t have an airbag in the front
- If your backseat is already fully occupied by other passengers who are younger and smaller
Never put a child under 12 years of age in the front seat with an airbag.
Illinois does have a few other rules you should be sure to follow when determining how your child should ride in the car.
- It is against the law to willingly bring harm to the life or health of a child under the age of 18 or to endanger them by putting them in circumstances where they could come to harm.
- You are not permitted to leave a child 6 years old or younger unattended in a vehicle for more than 10 minutes. Unattended is defined as not accompanied by a person 14 years of age or older or out of the sight of that person.
FAQs About Car Seats
The most important thing to remember is that everyone in the car must put on a seat belt. Kids under 8 have to be in an appropriate child restraint system, whether that’s a rear-facing seat, a forward-facing seat, or a booster. Children in the age of 8 and older are permitted to use a regular adult seat belt, as long as it fits correctly.
While children older than 8 can continue to use child restraints, it’s not required by law in Illinois. It is suggested that they sit in the backseat until age 12, but it is not Illinois law. If the backseat does not have shoulder belts, children who weigh more than 40 pounds are allowed to use only a lap belt.
There is not a strict age or weight requirement for using a booster seat in Illinois. The guidelines simply state that a child should be properly restrained in a booster seat after they have outgrown their child safety seat. Some children may outgrow their child safety seat by age 4 while others may take a little longer.
It’s recommended that any child of 12 years and under ride in the back seat. The back seat is always the safest place for children. However, if someone under the age of 13 must ride in the front, you should make sure they car ride in proper adult harness and that there is no airbag that can harm them.
This is entirely up to each child and how quickly they grow. Booster seats are meant to ease the transition from a five point harness to an adult seat belt. The lap belt should fit snugly around the upper thighs and the shoulder harness should stretch across the chest and shoulder.
A booster seat ensures that the shoulder harness doesn’t rub the neck or the cheek. If it does, your child isn’t safe. A booster should be used until the lap and shoulder belts fit properly without it. For some, that means age 7 or 8. For others, it’s not until they’re 12.
Now that you know what the car seat laws are in Illinois, you can be safe out on the road. These laws are difficult to understand and can be complicated, but they’re in place for a reason. They protect your children in the event of an accident.
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