As a parent of a child, you don’t likely need any reminding that there are requirements in place for restraining your child when you’re transporting them in an automobile. And, it’s likely that you understand that such laws exist for good reason. However, if you’re a first-time parent or new to West Virginia, or perhaps an occasional caregiver, you may be unaware of the ins and outs of child seat belt laws in West Virginia.
Below, our lawyers at DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC share what you should know about ages, weights, placement in the vehicle, and many other factors that dictate how and when a child must be restrained by a seat belt when traveling on our state’s roadways. So, continue reading what these requirements are to not only minimize the chances of receiving a citation but, more importantly, unnecessarily avoid endangering the life of a minor.
Why You Should Require Your Child To Use Their Seat Belt
In late 2022, Governor Jim Justice announced how the use of seat belts among West Virginia residents reached a record-high of 92.5%, at least 2.5% over the national average. A comparison of our state’s fatal crash rates between 2007 and 2020 reveals a nearly 50% reduction in passenger deaths from 432 to 267, which government officials attribute to their forwarding of “seat belts save lives” public service announcements.
Seat belt use significantly reduces passengers’ risks of suffering severe injuries or dying if involved in crashes. Research conducted by the Office of the Governor of West Virginia suggests that seat belts reduce the risk of:
- Moderate to critical injuries by at least 50%
- Fatalities among front-seat riders in passenger cars by 45%
- Fatal injury rates of light truck riders by 60%
Understanding Child Seat Belt Laws in West Virginia
WV Code § 17C-15-46 spells out what our state’s car and booster seat requirements are. That state statute outlines how all children under the age of eight must be placed in a child passenger safety seat that meets federal regulatory standards. There is one main exception to this rule, though, which is that children seven and under who are four feet nine inches (4′ 9″) or taller, so 57 inches (57″) or more, may wear seat belts instead of riding in a child passenger safety device. The WV Department of Motor Vehicles contends that a booster seat does not qualify as a child safety seat approved by the federal government.
The seat belt rule applies to children of the appropriate height or who are eight or older all the way up through their 18th birthday, whether they’re riding in the front or back seat. This contrasts with what’s required of adults 18 and older in our state, which only requires them to wear seat belts when riding in the front seat but not in the rear one.
West Virginia Car and Booster Seat Requirements
Now that we’ve addressed who must use standard seat belts, we’ll parse down those requirements in terms of when and how to use car or booster seats. West Virginia is one of very few states that doesn’t provide a lot of guidance on car or booster seat use, including whether they prefer it to be placed in the front or rear seat. Our state does impose a $20 fine for a first offense if a parent fails to properly transport their child in a child seat, though.
So, given that our state hasn’t established any documentable requirements our residents must follow, what should they do? While our attorneys here at DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC can’t tell you what choices to make that will ensure the safety of your children, we can share car seat safety and safety restraint tips for you to consider when making a decision as to what’s best for you and your family. And know that our state does offer Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Seat Fitting Stations in Kanawha County and at designated locations throughout the Mountain State that assess the proper installation of these seats and answer additional questions you may have about them.
Facts About Children and Seat Belts
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previously published some of the following staggering statistics regarding juvenile seat belt use:
- The use of “age-appropriate restraints” is lowest among rural children
- The risk of a child going unrestrained is higher when the motorist operating the vehicle they’re riding in is unrestrained or intoxicated
- Seat belt use is lowest among certain populations, including Hispanics, Native Americans or Alaskan Natives, and the Black community
It’s also worth noting that seat belt use (or the lack thereof) isn’t just an issue facing young kids and adults. It affects those in-betweeners, our teens, particularly significantly. A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) outlined how car accidents kill more teens than any other factor, with many of the fatalities being attributable to them not using safety restraints. While this study is now a few years old, news stories and other more recent data suggest that not much has changed on this end.
Our law firm is hopeful that you and your family always use seat belts and that they work as intended so that you never have to experience the misfortune of a child suffering any injuries or losing their life in such a senseless way. However, should a car crash in West Virginia occur that injures your child in some way, know that a Charleston car accident attorney is here to advise you of your rights to hold any responsible parties accountable for the harm they caused.