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What Parents Need to Know About Child Passenger Safety in Colorado

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When it comes to child passenger safety, parents are left with many unanswered questions. Rules and requirements for car seats and booster seats are constantly evolving, and unfortunately what some parents know, or think they know, is not up to the highest standards of protection for their child.

So, how important is it to pay attention to the rules and regulations surrounding child passenger safety? If your child is about to outgrow his/her car seat, is it really crucial to rush out and get the next size right away?

Here are a few statistics that might help you answer those questions and others like them:

  • Motor vehicle injuries represent the leading cause of death among children age 3-14 years old in the U.S. (Source: NHTSA, 2008 data)
  • From 2006-2010, 64 child passengers, ages 0-12 died in traffic crashes in Colorado. Over half (55%) were not using a child safety seat or seat belt, or they were using one improperly.
  • While 96% of parents and caregivers believe their child safety seats are installed correctly, research shows that seven out of ten children are improperly restrained. (Source:

Common Misconceptions:

  • “I can put my infant in the front seat of my car because I don’t have a back seat.”
    • Actually, Colorado law requires infants under one year old and less than 20 pounds to ride in the back seat, with no exceptions.
    • “My child can roam around freely in an RV that is underway.”
      • Although motor homes are exempt from child restraint laws, if children are riding in the front seat of the motor home they must abide by child restraint laws. It is much safer for children to be properly restrained in the motor home, no matter the position, while it is in motion.
      • “I was in an accident and I still use the same car seat.”
        • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that car seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection. To find out if your car seat needs to be replaced visit:

What you need to know to make sure you protect your child and are in compliance with Colorado State Law:

  • From newborn to age one children are required to be in a rear facing car seat.
  • One, two and three year-olds can be in a rear or forward-facing car seat.
  • Four, five, six and seven year-olds must be in a forward-facing car seat or booster seat.
  • From age eight until 16 children must have a booster seat or lap and shoulder seat belt.

If you are unsure, or want to know more about how to best protect your child in the car, stop by one of more than 140 “inspection stations” across Colorado. Inspection stations offer assistance for parents, provide car seat checks, and proper seat installation tips and advice. Visit the Colorado Child Passenger Safety website for more details (

Guest blogger Heather Cobler is the Child Passenger Safety Team Coordinator of the Colorado State Patrol.

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 19, 2013

    Great information. However, wondering when they’re old/big enough for the front seat?

    • comment avatar Heather Cobler September 19, 2013

      Safety experts recommend that children ages 12 and younger ride in the back seat. Vehicle manufacturers also display warnings against allowing children to sit in the front seat due to the danger posed by air bags.

      Colorado law stipulates that children under 1 year & under 20 lbs. must ride in the back seat; however, the safest practice is to keep children in the back seat until they turn 13.

  • comment avatar Tannim September 19, 2013

    “Common Misconceptions:
    ■“I can put my infant in the front seat of my car because I don’t have a back seat.”
    ■Actually, Colorado law requires infants under one year old and less than 20 pounds to ride in the back seat, with no exceptions.”

    Incorrect. If there is no backseat then they can be put in the front seat, but the same rules for positioning the seat apply. If the vehcile has a passenger airbag shutoff switch, it should be engaged and the airbag shut off when a child seat is in use there, becasue the deploying airbag can crush the child seat and child.

    So says this standard-cab pickup-truck-driving parent.

    • comment avatar Heather Cobler September 20, 2013

      Thanks for your comment Tannim. The “no exceptions” actually came from state law. There are no specific exceptions for vehicles with only a front seat written into state law.

      Your comments are absolutely correct about disengaging the airbag and other safety measures to take if you have to, or choose to, put an infant in the front seat. It would be for a court to determine the if legally it is a violation since state law requires every rear-facing car seat (1 year and 20 lbs) to be in the back seat and does not afford any exemptions.

  • comment avatar Mary September 19, 2013

    The problem with age-based requirements is that not all children are the same size.

    A family friend was almost 7′ tall, his wife well over 6′. Their daughters were over 5′ tall and “weight proportional” (over 100 pounds) for their height BEFORE they were in 3rd grade (they were 7 going on 8). Do they make booster seats to fit someone that size – and if not, will the parents STILL be ticketed for not having the children in booster seats?

    On the other hand, my 2 best high school friends and I met in gym class when we were lined up by size – at 14 – 16, we were the 3 smallest girls in the class: all under 4’9″ and all under 90 pounds (I shot up and was just over 5’6″ in 3 years) – and this was in the days when cars were starting to come equipped with seat belts.

    I understand wanting to protect children; however, “one size fits all” DOESN’T WORK, and it would have made a lot more sense for the “rules” about car seats and booster seats would have made much more sense to include exceptions based on height and weight.

    In addition, children have an annoying habit of “getting out of restraints”. Whenever I was responsible for young nephews and/or nieces, I never took more than I had seat belts for and the engine didn’t turn over until everyone was belted in, but once underway, somebody PLEASE tell me how to stop children from releasing the seat belt (and I’m not about to suggest “child proof” latches – suppose there’s an accident and you need to get them out in a hurry). I was babysitting a niece who was about 3 (this is decades ago, so no screaming when I say that although she was wearing a seat belt, she was in the front seat). While we were on the freeway, she began fiddling around with the connector (and after she released it, managed to get her finger caught in it, and the belt started retracting, pulling on her arm). It took a few minutes for me to get over to the side of the road (and I had reached over during the maneuvering and pulled the strap down so there was no pressure on her arm or neck), free her finger and belt her back in. Short of duct-taping her hands together, how could that have been prevented?

    • comment avatar Heather Cobler September 19, 2013

      I would first like to address comments about Colorado law.

      According to Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-236: “every child who is under eight years of age and who is being transported in this state in a motor vehicle or in a vehicle operated by a child care center, shall be properly restrained in a child restraint system, according to the manufacturer’s instructions”

      -The key to this section of the law is that it gives latitude about which child restraint you are using. Parents must use the child restraint system properly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This means that you need to find a seat that fits your child’s height AND weight according to the seat manufacturer.

      A list of car seats according to height/weight limits can be found at the following link:

      There are booster seats listed on this site that go up to 120 lbs and 63″ (5’3″). If your child is younger than eight and above these requirements you can also consider a Travel Vest or other approved restraint system (these are also listed at the above link).

      For the smaller children who are older than 8 year old, you should consider using the 5-Step Test to determine if they are big enough to ride in the vehicle with the adult seat belt only.

      1. Does the child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?

      2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?

      3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?

      4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?

      5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

      If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your child would still benefit from sitting in a booster seat.

      As for addressing the behavior of the child unbuckling the seat belt during travel. (I am not an expert in behavioral science, nor do I have training in child psychology – So these suggestions are based on my own personal experience.)
      -Before the behavior occurs make sure you always emphasize good seat belt safety. Make sure you stress that the seat belt keeps them safe and that it is not a toy. It is not funny and NOT SAFE for them to unbuckle while the vehicle is moving!
      -If the behavior occurs, pull over immediately (or as soon as it is safe to do so) and address the issue with the child. If they are unbuckling while riding in a booster seat, consider putting the child back into a harnessed seat, until they are mentally ready to ride in a booster seat.
      -The most important thing you can do: Set a good example. Children take their cues from you! Always wear your seat belt, and let them know that when they are riding with you seat belts are a priority. Talk to your children about the consequences of there actions! If you see a news story about a child that was injured as a result of not being buckled, use it as an opportunity to talk to your child about seat belt safety.
      -Reinforce good behavior! When they stay buckled for the entire trip let them know that the behavior was good!

    • comment avatar mom of 2 September 19, 2013

      We put the stiff pokey side of industrial strength velcro on the release buttons. It worked for us.

  • comment avatar Thrift Store Mama September 19, 2013

    Although I agree with the pp that limits should be height and weight based, I wonder if going by age is just so much simpler and results in greater adherence. As a newcomer to Colorado, I’ve been wondering about what the laws are here. But please don’t tell my 8 year old that she doesn’t HAVE to sit in a booster. Her little sister will pitch a fit since she’s got another couple years left !

    • comment avatar Heather Cobler September 20, 2013

      Thrift Store Mama: Before 2011 the child passenger safety laws were written to reflect height and weight requirements. In 2011 when they were revised, they called on law enforcement officers to testify about enforcement. They asked questions like: Do you carry a scale in your patrol car? Do you have tape measure on you when enforcing?

      Two things came from this discussion.
      1. It would be unsafe for Law Enforcement Officers to pull children out of the car on the side of a busy road to get height and weight.
      2. Law enforcement officers usually have tape measures available but not scales.

      Thus, the state law was revised to use a more age based unit of measurement. In 2011, the law reflected a child must be 4’9″ before transitioning to an adult seat belt. The average child reaches this height at about 12 years old.

      Colorado law requires a child restraint system until they are 8 years old.

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