New Washington State Child Car Seat Laws: What You Need To Know

New Washington State Child Car Seat Laws: What You Need To Know

In America, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death for children 4 years and older. While using a car seat can make a huge difference, unfortunately nearly 60% of car seats are not installed correctly, increasing the risk of children becoming injured in auto accidents. Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports that using the correct car seat, properly installed for your child can reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71%.

New Washington State Car Seat Laws

As of January 1, 2020, car seat laws have been revised in Washington State. Following these requirements greatly reduces the chances of death or serious injury in a crash. Your child’s safety in the car requires the right seat, used the right way, every time.

Here is what you need to know about the new law:

  • Children up to age 2 must be properly secured in a rear-facing car seat.
  • Children ages 2-4 years must ride in a car seat with a 5-point harness (rear or forward facing).
  • Children age 4 and older must ride in a car or booster seat until they are 4’9” tall.
  • Children over height 4’9” must be secured by a properly fitted seat belt (typically starting at 8-12 years old).
  • Children up to age 13 must ride in the back seat when practical to do so.
  • The child restraint system must comply with U.S. Department of Transportation standards and be used according to the vehicle and child restraint manufacturer.
  • For the best protection, a child should remain in each stage of restraint until they reach the maximum height and weight based on the manufacturer’s instructions.

These car seats laws are based on science, recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and car seat manufacturers’ guidelines. 

Local Car Seat Safety Expert

I recently connected with fellow mother Kanessa Thompson, who is also a local paramedic and the community relations coordinator with American Medical Response (AMR) of Southwest Washington.

When it comes to car seat safety and current laws, Thompson is the best resource in the area for expert knowledge and information. She is a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) and coordinator for both Clark County Safety First and Safe Kids Clark County.

A certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) will:

  • Check your child’s seat/booster for proper installation.
  • Check for recalls and educate you on safe installation and maintenance of seat/booster.
  • Answer your child passenger safety questions and concerns.

Expired Vs. Recalled

I wanted to know more about the difference between an expired car seat and a recalled car seat. Thompson helped clarify:

“An expired car seat is not the same as a recalled car seat.  A good rule of thumb is most car seats are good up to six years from the manufacture date, unless the car seat manufacturer states otherwise. You can find this information adhered to the back of the seat or on the bottom of the car seat.”

She goes on to stress, “Car seats expire just like most things. This occurs due to the plastic and other materials breaking down because of everyday wear and tear and being exposed to different elements (heat, cold and sunlight). This does not mean you should uninstall and bring your seat in after every use. Your seats are built to withstand these elements, hence the expiration date.”

Finally, she clarifies that a car seat recall is “when a seat has a specific safety defect, that was found after distribution to the public and was then reported to the manufacturer.”

Child Passenger Safety Clinic

Thompson’s organizations—AMR and Safe Kids—normally hold a Child Passenger Safety Clinic on the third Saturday of every month at PeaceHealth Southwest. Parents must attend the class first to receive a car seat (with proof of low income at a cost of $20.00) or to get their own car seat inspected. The car seats are first come, first serve.

Parents can bring in their car seat to be inspected by nationally certified technicians such as Thompson; they will inspect it for correct size and model, recalls and proper installation. For more information or to register for the clinic contact: or call 360-608-4136.

Families can also meet with Thompson at AMR to have their seats inspected by her or another technician if they cannot come to one of the clinics on the designated days. They do not always have a child passenger safety technician on duty, so call before you come by: 360-750-4679. Police and Fire do not typically have a CPST on duty. 

Thompson emphasizes that her motivation for keeping this program going is seeing how thankful and relieved most families are to receive the education to keep their little ones safe.

She says, “As a parent myself, I get the comforting feeling of knowing my children have a safe seat to ride in and it is installed correctly. Keeping my children safe is my daily goal, so it keeps me going knowing we are helping other families who may not have the resources to do this on their own.”

Bottom Line: Properly Installed Car Seats Save Children’s Lives

Thompson left me with a chilling reminder about car seat safety that we should all consider each time we buckle our children in the car.

“I do know from experience . . . there have been instances where children have walked away from a significant collision unharmed or with very minor injuries—while other occupants have suffered more severe injuries—due to the child being in the proper seat and the seat was properly installed.”

For more information on car seat safety and current Washington State laws, visit

Sara Halcumb is a registered nurse with more than 10 years of experience in healthcare. She also writes for the Southwest Washington blog Literally Simple. Sara was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Battle Ground with her husband and their two children. Most days you can find her enjoying the beautiful outdoors with her family and their dog Bandit.

Comments (1)

  • Maria

    Thanks for this super informative article. It’s always necessary to stay up to date on regulations and safety practices.


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