In North Carolina, every occupant of a vehicle who is under 16 years old needs to be buckled up and belted in. For older kids, that can mean in a seat belt that met federal safety standards when it was manufactured. For younger kids, parents should be using a child passenger restraint system (car seat) that is appropriate to the age and weight of the child.
If you are charged with violating North Carolina’s law on child restraint by failing to properly restrain your child, you could be fined $25 plus court costs and be assessed two license demerit points. (These penalties are higher if you were on a learner’s permit when the violation occurred.)
People 16 years and older can be fined $25 for failure to wear a seat belt, or $10 if they were riding in the back seat.
Kids under eight must be in age-appropriate car seats
The choice of a child car seat depends both on the child’s age and on their weight. For example, a child under two years old will probably be safest in a rear-facing car seat.
As kids get bigger, it may be appropriate to move them up to the next size, or a forward-facing car seat. Ideally, a child under 40 pounds will be in a car seat in the back seat.
Any child five or younger and weighing less than 40 pounds should be in a car seat in the back seat, although it may not be a violation if their car seat is designed for use near airbags.
After your child reaches 40 pounds, they can move into a booster seat, which positions a child’s body in the right way so that regular seat belts with shoulder harnesses are effective. At 80 pounds, booster seats are no longer required. At that point, you should strap them into a seat belt and shoulder harness, if available.
Be aware that car seats may offer greater protection than booster seats. Don’t be in a hurry to move your child to a booster seat – a car seat is safest until your child exceeds its weight and size guidelines.
You may get a do-over if you go get an appropriate car seat
According to the law, if you are charged with failure to properly restrain a child under eight, you should not be convicted if you can show the court that you have procured an appropriate car seat for the vehicle in which your child is ordinarily transported.
If you have received a ticket for failing to properly restrain your child, contact an experienced lawyer right away. Defending yourself could result in lower penalties.