skip to main content

Public Health - Seattle & King County

Occupant protection: Seatbelts, booster seats and car seats

Driver putting seatbelt on2012 marks the 10th anniversary of Washington's seat belt law changing from a secondary law to a primary law. That change allowed law enforcement to issue a seat belt ticket when there was no citable offense.

In 2011, King County had a seatbelt usage rate of 98.1%, one of the highest in the nation. The Washington state seatbelt usage rate overall was 97.5%. While this use rate is encouraging, occupant protection is a priority area for improvement.

From 2008 to 2012, 72 unrestrained motor vehicle occupants died in King County. Unrestrained occupants made up 29% of all vehicle occupant deaths.
...Washington Traffic Safety Commission, July 2013

Research shows that if you wear a seatbelt, you are much more likely to survive a crash. Everyone in the car should also wear a seatbelt. Studies show that in a crash, unbelted passengers might fly into belted passengers, causing severe injuries or death to the belted passengers.


Click It or Ticket!

Click It or Ticket it logoWashington state laws require that everyone in a motor vehicle wears a safety restraint that is properly fastened. Following this law can save you money and help save lives! The fine for not wearing a seatbelt or appropriate child restraint costs $124.

Washington's Seat Belt Law (RCW 46.61.688) requires:

  • Every person 16 years or older operating or riding in a motor vehicle shall wear the safety belt assembly in a properly adjusted and securely fastened manner.
  • No person may operate a motor vehicle unless all children passengers under the age 16 are either wearing a safety belt or are securely fastened in an approved child restraint device.

Washington's Child Passenger Restraint Law (RCW 46.61.687) requires:

  • Children under age 8, unless they are 4'9" tall (which ever comes first), must be restrained in an appropriate child restraint system (car seat or booster seat).
  • Children 8 years old or at least 4'9" tall who wear a seat belt MUST use it correctly (never under the arm or behind the back) or continue to use a child restraint.
  • Children less than 13 years old are to be transported in the back seat, where it is practical to do so.
  • Child restraint system must be used correctly according to the car seat AND vehicle manufacturer's instructions. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and guidelines for both the child restraint and the vehicle.

Car seat and booster seat recommendations

In their updated policy (March 21, 2011), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following car and booster seats guidelines for families:

  • Keep infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until at least 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.

  • All children age 2 or older, or those younger than 2 who have outgrown the rear-facing seat, should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.

  • All children who have outgrown the forward-facing car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap-and-should seat belt fits properly, typically when they reach 4'9" tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age.

  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap-and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.

  • All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

Be careful not to graduate your child to the next seat too soon. Keep your child in the current seat for as long as possible (according to the seat manufacturer's height and weight requirements), to maximize safety.

For more information, check out the following resources: