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Frequently Asked Questions About Child Passenger Safety, Seat Belts, and Maryland's Laws

How long does my child need to stay in a safety seat?

According to Maryland’s law, every child under 8 years old must ride in a booster seat or other appropriate child safety seat (including infant seats, convertible seats, forward-facing seats, booster seats, or other federally approved safety devices) unless the child is 4 feet 9 inches or taller or weighs more than 65 pounds. However, nationally recognized best practice* recommendations are for most children to ride in booster seats until they are big enough for lap/shoulder belts to fit properly.

When can my child move from a booster seat to a seat belt?

A booster seat is designed to place a child higher on the vehicle seat so that the lap/shoulder belt fits correctly. Seat belt fit varies from car to car and from person to person. A child does not fit the seat belt until: s/he can sit all the way back on the vehicle seat and bend his/her knees over the edge of the seat; the lap part of the belt sits as low as possible, touching the thighs; the shoulder belt crosses the shoulder between the neck and the arm; and the child can stay seated like this the entire trip. When the seat belt fits as described above, the child is ready to use a seat belt.

My booster seat can be used to 80 pounds, but my 48 pound child complains that the straps are too tight. Do I need to buy a different seat?

Most child restraint systems are approved for use with harness straps to 40 pounds. Your seat may be a “combination” child restraint/booster seat, in which you should remove the harness straps and use the seat as a “belt-positioning booster seat” with your car’s lap and shoulder belt. Read the instructions for your child’s car seat and your vehicle manual to make sure you are using the car seat/booster seat as described by the manufacturers.

Nothing holds the booster seat into my car and there are no straps for my child. How can that be safe?

Belt-positioning booster seats, designed for children over 40 pounds who have outgrown child safety seats with harnesses, are positioning devices that help children fit into the car’s lap and shoulder belt. Booster seats do not restrain the child; the seat belt does. For stability, a few belt-positioning booster seats currently on the market can be installed in LATCH-equipped vehicles with lower anchorages. Read and follow the booster seat instruction manual.

My family drives an older car that only has lap belts in the back seat. What kind of booster seat do I use?

Fortunately, there are some options available that can be used with lap belts for children weighing more than 40 pounds. Some child restraint systems can be used with a harness system to 50 pounds or more; other restraints including special vests or harness systems may be anchored into a top tether anchor for older/larger children using lap belts; some automobile manufacturers may offer lap/shoulder belt retrofit kits to be installed in older vehicles. Call Maryland Kids in Safety Seats 1-800-370-SEAT for more information about these products.

When can my child sit in the front seat?

Maryland's child passenger safety law requires that children up to age sixteen be buckled up in a child safety seat or seat belt, and that child restraints be used in accordance with both the vehicle and safety seat manufacturers' instructions.

All manufacturers of both safety seats and vehicles prohibit a rear-facing child safety seat from being used in a seating position with an active passenger side air bag. Therefore, doing so against the manufacturers' recommendations would violate Maryland law (and would be very dangerous).

According to the national best practices, children of any age and size are safest in the rear seat, and those younger than 13 years of age should never ride in a front seat equipped with an active passenger side air bag. These recommendations are made even for those vehicles without passenger air bags, and safety groups encourage everyone to follow this practice.

Are there any points assessed for not wearing a seat belt in Maryland?

There are no points assessed for non-compliance with Maryland's seat belt law, just the $25 fine. However, it is important to note that in the event of a crash, it is much safer to be held inside the car by the safety belt than to be ejected from the vehicle.

My seat belt doesn’t fit me properly. Do I have to wear it over my shoulder?

Seat belts function best when properly used, with the lap belt worn 2 to 4 inches below the waist, against the hips and upper thighs—never high over the ribs and stomach. The shoulder belt should never be worn under the arm or behind the back. It should be worn snugly across the chest with the belt lying against the collarbone. When driving, sit up straight at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel for added air bag protection in the event of a crash.

One faces a risk of serious injury or death by not using the seat belt properly – in this case, by not placing both components of the belt on the appropriate points of the body. The seat belt is designed to contact the strongest points of the body—the pelvis and the collarbone. When it is not worn properly, the user risks soft tissue damage to vital organs like the lungs, stomach, liver, and even spinal cord—all of which can be quite debilitating. Also, supplemental restraint systems like air bags work best in conjunction with a properly used lap and shoulder belt.

If there is a problem with proper belt fit, one way to help the shoulder belt fit better is to move closer to where the belt buckles (i.e., on the driver's side, move toward the right). This lessens the angle at which the belt crosses the neck, and helps in many vehicles.

*Child passenger safety “best practices” are research-based recommendations agreed upon by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other safety groups.

Special thanks to Maryland Kids In Safety Seats (KISS) and the Maryland SAFE KIDS Coalition for their assistance with this page. For further information about child safety seats, please log onto the KISS website at, or call KISS at 1-800-370-SEAT. For information about adult seat belt use, please contact the Maryland Highway Safety Office at 410-787-4077.

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Revised: June 24, 2008