What kind of car seats are required if I’m driving with children? If they’re not my kids, do I still have to have car seats for them?
First, everybody must buckle up. The driver and all passengers must be belted or restrained, regardless of age.
Second, kids under 8 must be secured in “an appropriate child restraint system.” Even if they’re not your kids—if they’re under 8 they must be in that “appropriate child restraint system.”
Third, from age 8 on up, it’s legal for kids to use regular adult seat belts. It’s recommended that you continue to use child restraint systems beyond age 8, but Illinois law doesn’t require them. Children must ride in the back seat until age 13.
Fourth, drivers are responsible for securing all passengers under 16. They can’t just leave it up to the passenger. And if the driver is 16 or 17, they must secure all passengers under 19. (New drivers also have limits on the number of passengers they can have under 20).
Our general seat belt law requires everyone to buckle up. The Child Passenger Protection Act imposes specific requirements for kids under 8. Until 1984, restraints were only required before age 4.
The “appropriate child restraint system” the law requires must meet the standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). One branch of the DOT, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), actually sets those standards.
The NHTSA’s website has lots of information about child safety seats. They divide seats into 3 stages: rear-facing car seat; forward-facing car seat; and forward-facing booster seat.
The NHTSA recommends keeping kids in each of the 3 stages for as long as a child is still within the size limits for a particular seat. Since seats aren’t uniform, each one has its own size limits.
As a general guide, though, the NHTSA says that rear-facing seats should be used up to age 3, that forward-facing seat should be used up to age 7, and that booster seats should be used up to age 12.
According to the NHSTA, you should keep all kids in the back sheet through age 12. But that’s a recommendation, and not required by law. It’s not illegal to use car seats and booster seats in the front seat and to use regular seat belts once a child turns 8.
If the back seat doesn’t have a shoulder belt, Illinois law says it’s OK for a child weighing more than 40 pounds, regardless of age, to use only a lap belt.
Illinois law says a parent or guardian “shall” provide a safety seat to anyone who transports their child.
The fine for violating the Child Passenger Protection Act is $75. (Violating the general seat belt law is a $25 fine.) But, you can avoid the $75 fine by doing 2 things: proving you have “possession” of an appropriate child restraint system, and taking “an instructional course on the installation of a child restraint system.”
Under the Illinois Child Passenger Protection Act, first-time offenders are subject to a fine which can be waived upon proof of possession of an approved child passenger restraint system.
Parents may also be charged with neglect for leaving a child (or a pet) in a vehicle. This could subject them to kidnapping, accidents, or death, especially during inclement weather.
Updated: March 2018