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Effective August 1: Colorado’s new car seat law and how your children are impacted

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**This post was originally published in May after Governor Ritter signed the new car seat law SB10-110. The law went into effect today. Please keep reading to find out how your children may be impacted.

This was said as we got in the car on my daughter’s recent birthday. I countered with, “Sorry, Tessa. That’s not safe or legal.”

“So when CAN I ride in the front?”

“Mrmbmrmbmrmm……let me get back to you on that.”

Most parents know that a newborn belongs in a properly-installed rear-facing infant seat. But after that, the requirements for safety get a little murky. So just in time for summer travel, here’s the low down on car seats and kids.

Newborn to 1 year. Rear-facing child seat.

The law: requires infants to ride in a rear-facing child safety seat until they are at least one year old and weigh at least 20 lbs.

Safety advocates recommend: Restrain your infant in a rear-facing seat as long as possible for the best protection in a crash. Many larger “convertible”-type car seats allow children to ride rear-facing up to 30 lbs.

1 to 4 years old AND over 20 pounds. Forward-facing child seat.

The law: The law requires that children ages one year to four years who weigh 20 pounds up to 40 pounds be restrained in a forward-facing child safety seat.

Safety advocates recommend: Restrain your child in a 5-point harness system until they are at least 40 lbs. Use upper-tether straps where applicable (refer to your car seat and vehicle’s owner’s manual for more information.)

4 to 8 years. More than 40 pounds but less than 55 inches. Booster seat.

The law: The law requires that children who are at least four years old but less than six years old and are less than 55 inches tall eight years old be properly restrained in a child booster seat or with a child safety belt-positioning device.

Safety advocates recommend: Restrain your child in a booster seat until they are about 57” (4’9”). A child’s height is the best predictor of proper seat belt fit.

8 to 18 years AND more than 40 pounds AND more than 55 inches.

The law: The law requires that a child who is at least six eight years old and is at least 55 inches tall, must be properly restrained with the motor vehicle’s safety belt.

Safety advocates recommend: proper seat belt fit is achieved when these five conditions are met:

  • The child can sit all the way back against the auto seat
  • The child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat
  • The belt crosses the shoulder between the neck and the arm
  • The lap belt is as low as possible touching the thighs
  • The child can stay seated like this for the whole trip

Front seat

While the back seat is safer for a child, what does the law say about riding in the front seat?

The law:

Nothing. THERE IS NO LAW ABOUT THIS. I had lied to Tessa. Inadvertently, of course.

I checked with Vera Fullaway, Technical Training Coordinator at the Colorado State Patrol. “The law does, however, require correct use of child restraints according to manufacturer instructions.” Which, because of that label on your visor, makes it illegal to transport a rear-facing child in the front seat with an active passenger airbag.

And the new law brings a new development.

The law as of August 1, 2010:  The law requires all children less than 1 year of age to ride in the back seat. The bill is a measure that will improve the safety of children while riding in a car by requiring all children under the age of 8 years old to be properly restrained in a booster seat.

Still, this doesn’t address the question Tessa asked me. So I had to dig deeper. When CAN she ride in the front seat?

Corporal Eric Wynn of the Colorado State Patrol says we should never put a child in front of an active airbag. He explains that the passenger-side airbag explodes at 200 mph in a crash, while the driver’s side airbag explodes at only 150 mph. “The difference is in the distance the bag has to travel to protect the person. And the bags were designed for a 140 pound man who is wearing a seat belt, not a smaller, lighter, child, and especially not without a seat belt.”

So here is what the Colorado State Patrol suggests: “Airbag  and vehicle manufactures recommend that all passengers in front seats be at least 13 years old, weigh at least 100 pounds, are tall enough to fit into the lap and shoulder belt and are mature enough to remain in their seating position — out of the airbag deployment zone,” says Fullaway.

So Tessa has a few more years in the back seat. For safety reasons, if not legal reasons.

What about interstate travel? Do the laws change when you cross state lines?

“Yes,” says Corp. Wynn. “It’s the responsibility of the parents to know the laws of the states they travel in. I get calls constantly from parents and grandparents traveling to Colorado. Parents are trying to do the right thing.”

Fullaway adds, “If parents follow Best Practice Recommendations [above], they will be compliant with all laws in all 50 States of the USA and the District of Columbia.”

Safe travels this summer and always!

For additional information on the child restraint law and how to keep your kids safe, please go to The Children’s Hospital’s helpful resource page.

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  • comment avatar JoAnn May 26, 2010

    When our daughter was a baby, we kept her rear-facing way past the “guidelines” because it was proven to be safer. We ended up switching her to be forward-facing before I was really comfortable doing so (but still well after she was 1 year and 20 lbs) because we had a LONG road-trip coming up, and the thought of trying to turn myself into a pretzel to reach her during an 8+ hour road trip was daunting. (I’d done it when she was required to be rear-facing, and it wasn’t something I looked forward to doing again if given an alternative safe option!)

    She had no problems rear-facing, but LOVED forward-facing, so we couldn’t really switch her back after the road trip. Again, it was “time” to switch her, so that was that.

    From then on, we’ve always done what our specific car seat has said to do, and it’s always matched Colorado’s laws, if not been a bit stricter. This last year, we put her in a car seat that easily converts into a booster (and it’s technically a “booster” now, with a back).

    I always think back to when I was a child in the 70s, unrestrained and bouncing around in the back seat. Yes, I survived. But, my parents weren’t on the road with people who are overly distracted by cell phones and DVD players and texting, and the cars we drove were made of metal and not styrofoam and plastic.

    I’d like to think I survived my car-seat-free childhood days DESPITE the lax safety measures and not because of them.

    I think a law that saves lives is a good thing. I’m curious to see what other people think!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 26, 2010

    Thanks for working on this, Lori. I’ve found the whole thing just so confusing and have never known when to do what. This definitely helps!

    My daughter turned 6 yesterday and I was planning to just keep her in her booster seat because it’s there and it’s easy. However, I know some friends who’ve had their child out of the booster seat will be annoyed with the new bill. Sure, it is for safety but bottom line is it’s a hassle for carpooling, which many do.

    Question: So, according to your post, if they’re over 40 pounds over 55 inches and between ages 6 and 18 do they not need to be in a booster?

  • comment avatar Lori May 26, 2010

    The new law means that a child is required to be in a booster until age 8. But after that, no matter the age, weight or height, there is no law. Just safety recommendations.

    We tend to be more stringent in our car safety with the kids than the law requires. I consider the law as the minimum requirement. My job as the parent is to make good decisions regarding their safety, no matter what the law says.

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 26, 2010

    We have edited the information, and hopefully it’s correct now. Any child under 8 years old is required to be in a booster, regardless of “stature.”

    Personally, I think it’s much easier to say to a kid, “Well, you’re less than 8 years old, so this is is what we need to do,” rather than getting out the tape measure and scales. 😉

  • comment avatar Jen May 26, 2010

    My son is 9 and small for his age. Technically he no longer has to be in a booster, because he’s over 40 pounds and right about at 55 inches. BUT. This is the kid who got a significant concussion in PE a few weeks ago because he and another kid (bigger, sturdier, youth-football-playing kid) bonked heads…skipping. Got him a trip to the doctor (who was truly worried about him) and a run through the CAT scan machine. He’s going to be in a booster until he’s sturdier/100 pounds/12 years old. LOL! He won’t see the front seat until he’s 13 at the earliest. My 5-almost-6 year old is sturdier and tall for his age. Same requirements for him. Am I over-reacting? Possibly. I remember riding on my mom’s lap in the front seat when I was 3. Chewing gum. I also remember long car trips laying on a mattress in the back of the van. Different times.

    Let’s just hope my “loves to argue the finer points” 9 year old doesn’t hear about the change in law…LOL!

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 26, 2010

    The best part about all this Car Seat Stuff is the fact that your local Firehouse has trained professionals to help you install your car seat for you!

    An excuse to go see the Firefighters AND make sure your child is safe? Sounds like a win-win to me! 😉

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 26, 2010

    Jen, that’s true! If he tries to argue the details, you can have a discussion with him about the “word of the law” vs. the “spirit of the law” and how the law is just the lowest common denominator for safety and doesn’t take into consideration his particular situation.

    And, then try to convince him that his booster is the coolest thing ever and you’ll refer to him as Captain every time he’s in the car with you. 🙂

  • comment avatar Jen May 26, 2010

    And then there’s “Mom’s Law,” which is “get your butt in that booster mister!” LOL! 😉 No, I don’t think he’ll argue too hard; he’s pretty safety conscious. He’ll argue just to say he did, but will back down more quickly on safety issues than something else.
    Captain? Hmmm…may need to try that. LOL

  • comment avatar Amamasblog May 26, 2010

    Thanks for the article. Very helpful- I just moved my 6 year old, 48 lb. to a booster seat, and he has been wanting to sit in the front seat. I wasn’t sure what the law was, and I also was unsure when he wouldn’t need a booster anymore.

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz May 26, 2010

    Jen, I LIKE “Mom’s Law!”

    It’s nice for me to have the law to fall back on when reasoning with my kids. But like Jen says, *WE* (husband and I) write the laws in our domain. Sometimes it IS “because I say so.”

    (Well, me and Fireman Dan.)

  • comment avatar sally May 26, 2010

    why do we need another law? lets see when to breath eat sleep drink…..what are they going to do if the person has a truck. oh no you have to buy a new vehicle. no wait i could put the child in the rear seat oh wait that is the truck bed. How on earth did we all survive! without these new laws. I am so glad ritter is a quitter.

  • comment avatar Melissa Caddell May 26, 2010

    Thanks for working on this and explaining it! It can be so confusing! I have a small (under 40 lbs) about to be 8 year-old who will likely need to be in a booster seat (following best practices, not the new law) until she takes the driver’s test! LOL!

  • comment avatar kia May 26, 2010

    The longer they are in a safer riding situations the better. I have seen children on a scene thrown from a vehicle and it is nothing they deserved. We are expecting our first and in searching for a seat we have had to do a lot of research, one of the criteria we are looking for is a convertible seat that can keep them rear-facing as long as possible.

  • comment avatar kia May 26, 2010

    I am posting a small blog post I did on our car seat shopping process only because it links info on where to get car seat inspections, car seat recalls, car seat data, etc.

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 26, 2010

    I agree, Kia! We were lucky that when Claire was born, we were able to borrow (practically brand new, from a friend) one of those “pumpkin carrier” baby seats…the ones that click in/out and are rear-facing. She quickly grew out of that, but, by the time that happened, we’d researched and found a car seat to use that was more permanent AND rear-facing for a LONG time.

    (I’m so glad we didn’t have to go to the expense of buying two seats so close to each other!)


  • comment avatar JoAnn May 26, 2010

    My sister JUST sent me this video this week, and maybe you’ve already seen it?

    It’s about what a seatbelt represents. I get goosebumps every time I watch it.

  • comment avatar Zaphkyel May 26, 2010

    I find it very interesting that you managed to put in place this article. It is a very interesting piece of information for all those concerned about the safety and legality when they transport their children in cars. You managed to cover all of the important rules and implementations the law created for us citizens. Car seats are very important ,mostly when it is all about the safety of our little ones.
    Comfort-ability is just as important as safety ,therefore ,we should be carefree about both of them when we use our cars with our family. Speaking of which, I found some interesting reviews at concerning car seats for babies and children.

  • comment avatar Kirsten June 3, 2010

    Thanks for the updates. Please note you are linking to old information on the law above. The new laws will go into effect August 1st, but it seems the sites you reference have not updated their information yet.

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz June 3, 2010

    You are correct, Kirsten. The passage of the law is recent, and the law is not in effect yet, so currently we have found no references to cite that contain the new information.

    The previous laws, with the updates mentioned in the post, will have do for now.

    If you do know of a site with current information, please leave the link here!

  • comment avatar Kirsten June 9, 2010

    You can visit The Children’s Hospital website for up to date information on the law, safety recommendations and find out where they are doing free car seat checks. Here is the link:

    Hopefully the state will get their website updated soon.

  • comment avatar Chelsea June 27, 2010

    Okay…so what if you child is 3 years old and 40 lbs.? My son has been in the 95-100% for height since he was born and 50% for weight, he’s atall boy not chncky. Should I keep him in forward facing 4 point harness seat or can I move him to a booster?

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz June 27, 2010

    @Kirsten: thanks for the link!

    @Chelsea: when in doubt, visit your local fire station to ask what your best bet for safety is.

  • comment avatar Melissa Caddell July 26, 2010

    I am reposting this article (again) on Facebook as I just came back to it to see if my 11 year-old could ride in the front seat for a carpool this year. Legally? Yes. Safety-wise? No. Mom law? No way. 🙂

    Thanks again for the great, great info, Lori!


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  • comment avatar fancy738 June 7, 2011

    I’m all for children being safe, however… my 66 year old mother is currantly 4’11”. A couple of years from now, she very well may need a booster seat (take it with a grain of salt.) Now, in contrast, a child of any age is able to sit in a car, in a parking lot, unattended for any amount of time in the state of Colorado (there is NO legislation in Colorado reguarding this issue.) And how exactly is law enforcement going to enforce no front seats in rural communities, where many people only have pick up trucks?

  • comment avatar marci August 20, 2011

    I live here in Pueblo and I have so many crazy drivers who are either on the phn or eating or doing drugs while driving and I’m not saying I’m a perfect driver but my niece’s and nephews are my precious cargo and learning these laws and safety tips is awesome. I learned first had what can happen if a child isn’t properly seated. I am a first responder and my at the te 9 yr old niece was in the front seat and there was an accident were a little boy was in the front and they got hit the air bags deployed and his face was pretty swollen and he was bleeding I adviced them he was to little even though he was old enough he didn’t weigh enough and he wasn’t tall enough. So my niece NW 11 and is tall enough and weighs enough its still hard for me to put her in the front seat and she still fights with me but oh well.

  • comment avatar Carrie March 8, 2016

    I know this is a very old post but it came up in a search I was doing to find out when my 11 year old daughter could ride in the front seat. She is small for her age and I now know that there is NO law. She CAN sit in front, but it’s clearly not the safest place for her. Why then do all of her friend’s parents have their small 10-11 year old girls in the front, making me look like the bad guy? Don’t they do their research too, or do they just let their kids rule? So frustrating. She is embarrassed that I still make her sit in the back, while her friends are all in the front.

  • comment avatar Lori Holden March 8, 2016

    I get it, Carrie. There are so many times my kids tell us that other families’ rules should be our benchmark. Cell phones, clothing, allowance, game ratings, homework…they make it sound like a person might actually be able to have “died of embarrassment” on their death certificate.