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California Occupant Protection Laws

Several laws to protect passengers in motor vehicles, particularly children, were enacted by the State of California. Below is a summary of several of them.

Restraint Laws for Children

Vehicle Code Section 27360, 27360.5

child carseatThe driver transporting young children in a passenger vehicle, motor truck or truck tractor is required Child in car seatto provide and properly use a child restraint system (safety seat, booster, or other certified product) that meets federal safety standards. If the parent is in the car, he or she is cited instead of the driver.

Children must be properly secured in a child restraint system (safety seat, booster, or other certified product) until they are at least 6 years old or 60 pounds. Children who are at least 6 years old or weigh at least 60 pounds and are under age 16 must be properly secured in either a child restraint system or a properly fitted safety belt.

Consequences: Violators receive one point on the driving record. The fine is $100 but more than $300 when penalty assessments are included, for not properly securing a child under age sixteen. The fine is $250 but more than $700 when penalty assessments are included, for the second or subsequent offense. At least 60% of the fines are allocated to local city or county health departments for car seat education and distribution programs.

Exceptions: In an emergency vehicle or in case of a life-threatening emergency, if there is no safety seat available, the child is to be secured with a vehicle safety belt. Physical unfitness, medical condition, or size may be cause for exemption.

Car rental agencies are required to post a sign and to provide safety seats for rent by customers on request. The seats must be in good, safe condition, with no missing parts, and less than five years old.

Retailers/Distributors may not sell car seats that do not conform to federal safety standards at the time of sale.

Clinics, alternative birth centers, and health facilities must have a written policy specifying that safety education will be provided to parents of young children, including a summary of the law, a list of car seat distribution programs in the city or county, and information about the risk of death or injury to children who are not properly restrained.

Day care centers must post signs with specified information at their entrances.

Laws Prohibiting Unattended Children in Vehicles

Vehicle Code Section 15620

No person may leave a child age six or younger in a vehicle if the health or safety of the child is at risk, the engine is running, or the keys are in the ignition. The child must be supervised by a person at least age 12. The fine is $100.

Restraint Laws for Drivers and Passengers

Vehicle Code Section 27315

restraint lawsThe driver of a passenger vehicle, motor truck or truck tractor is required to wear safety belts properly and to have passengers 16 and older properly restrained by safety belts. Seat Belt: It Not Only Protects You, It Protects Your WalletPassengers 16 and older are required to wear safety belts; they may be cited as well as the driver.

Owners of private passenger vehicles and taxicabs must maintain safety belts in good working order.

Consequences: The first offense is a $22 fine (including penalty assessments) and $55 for subsequent offenses.

Exceptions: Passengers in vehicles designed for more than ten occupants, including school buses; passengers at least age 16 in rear seats of taxis, limos, or emergency vehicles; taxi drivers transporting fare-paying passengers on city streets; newspaper delivery persons; rural postal carriers; drivers operating garbage trucks; truck passengers in sleeper berths; occupants with a certified disability or medical condition which prevents appropriate restraint. Farm labor vehicles are not exempt.

Pickup Trucks

Vehicle Code Section 23116

Drivers are prohibited from transporting any person in or on the back of a pickup or flatbed motor truck; any person riding in or on the back of the truck can also be cited. Consequences: A $135 fine (including penalty assessments) and one point on the driving record.

Exceptions: This section does not apply if the person is secured with a restraint system that meets federal safety standards (no federal safety standard exists for anchorage of belts in cargo areas) or in an emergency response situation by a public agency. There is no exemption for passengers riding within an enclosed camper or camper shell.

Animals in Pickup Trucks

Vehicle Code Section 23117

Animals must ride in an enclosed area or be restrained to prevent their ejection from the back of a truck.

Exceptions: Livestock and dogs used for ranching or farming.

School Buses

Vehicle Code Section 27316

All Type 2 school buses manufactured on or after July 1, 2004, and type 1 school buses manufactured on or after July 2, 2005, and purchased or leased for use in California shall be equipped at all designated seating positions with a combination pelvic and upper torso passenger restraint system.

Three-Wheeled Vehicles

Vehicle Code Section 27368

Child restraint and safety belt use are required in a fully enclosed three-wheeled motor vehicle that is at least seven feet long and four feet wide with an unladen weight of 900 pounds or more.

Motorcycle Helmets

Vehicle Code Section 27803

All motorcycle riders must wear properly fitted safety helmets that conform to federal safety standards and are so labeled. Driver and passenger may be cited.

Helmets for Children

Vehicle Code Section 21212, 21204

Children under age 18 who are skating or riding on a bicycle, scooter, or skateboard must wear a properly fitted and fastened helmet that meets specified safety standards when they ride or skate on a street, bikeway, or public bicycle path or trail. Helmets sold in California must conform to applicable standards and be so labeled.

Bicycle operators are prohibited from carrying passengers without a separate seat. For children who are either under four years old or under 40 pounds, the seat must include a restraint system and protection from moving parts of the bicycle, and a properly fitted safety helmet must be used.

Consequences: The maximum fine is $25 and the case may be dismissed on a first offense. The money collected will be used for education and to assist low-income families to obtain helmets.

Used Child Restraints

Vehicle Code Section 27362.1

No person may sell a child restraint that was in use by a child during a crash. Auto insurers are required to ask whether a child restraint was in use by a child in a covered crash and, if so, replace the child restraint or reimburse for its replacement (Section 11580.011 of the Insurance Code).

Used Air Bags

Vehicle Code Section 27317

To knowingly sell or install a previously deployed air bag is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500 and/or one year in county jail.

Shoulder Belt Positioning Devices

Vehicle Code Section 27302

No person shall sell or offer for sale a seat belt or attachments thereto for use in a vehicle unless it complies with requirements established by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Last updated: 10/29/2007 5:12:07 PM