Rhode Island law follows federal guidelines to ensure that motor vehicle operators place a child in the proper position and restraint system while riding in vehicles. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-22-22)
Where must a child sit in a motor vehicle? All children under age 8 must sit in the rear seat. A child may only sit in the front if the vehicle has no rear seat or the rear seats hold other children. A child between ages 8 and 18 may sit in the front or rear seat. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), recommends keeping children under 12 in the rear because it is safer, particularly in case of a RI auto accident.
What type of restraint system does each child require? A child under age 8, less than 57 inches, and less than 80 pounds must sit in a federally approved child restraint system, while those taller than 57 inches or at least 80 pounds may use a seat belt. Any passenger age 13 and over must wear a seat belt or shoulder harness. The NHTSA provides detailed recommendations for appropriate restraint systems. While the proper seat varies based on height, weight, and manufacturer’s recommendations, as a general rule:
- Infants under age 1 and children under 3 should be in a rear facing seat;
- Children between 1 and 7 can be in a forward facing car seat, convertible safety seat, or high back booster; and
- Children between 4 and 12 can be in a high-back or no-back booster seat.
After buying a car seat, manufacturers recommend that you register your car seat so you are notified immediately in the event of a recall.