Posted on November 14, 2021

When Does A Child Need To Be In A Car Seat or Have A Seat Belt In Illinois?

The first duty of a parent is to keep a child safe. At least twice a day, this involves putting a child in an automobile to go school, daycare, a friend or relative’s house. In Illinois, the child must be in a specific kind of car seat or be wearing a seatbelt, depending on the child’s age and size.

Children Under Age 8 Must Have A Car Seat Or Booster Seat In Illinois

All children UNDER age 8 (that is ages zero through seven) must use a car seat depending on the type of car they are in.

“When any person is transporting a child in this State under the age of 8 years in a non-commercial motor vehicle of the first division, any truck or truck tractor that is equipped with seat safety belts, any other motor vehicle of the second division with a gross vehicle weight rating of 9,000 pounds or less, or a recreational vehicle on the roadways, streets or highways of this State, such person shall be responsible for providing for the protection of such child by properly securing him or her in an appropriate child restraint system.” 625 ILCS 25/4

The first step in determining if you’re in compliance with Illinois’s car seat law is determining the size of the car.

“First Division: Those motor vehicles which are designed for the carrying of not more than 10 persons.

Second Division: Those motor vehicles which are designed for carrying more than 10 persons, those motor vehicles designed or used for living quarters, those motor vehicles which are designed for pulling or carrying freight, cargo or implements of husbandry, and those motor vehicles of the First Division remodelled for use and used as motor vehicles of the Second Division.” 625 ILCS 5/1-146

You or your child’s other parent probably don’t own a 12 passenger van. So, don’t worry too much about whether the automobile requires car seats.

The reason giant automobiles don’t require car seats is the same reason school buses don’t require seatbelts. They’re simply so big and compartmentalized that the laws of physics keep the backseat passengers safe the same way a carton of eggs will not break all the eggs if the carton gets dropped.

“For purposes of this Section…, “child restraint system” means any device which meets the standards of the United States Department of Transportation designed to restrain, seat or position children, which also includes a booster seat.” 625 ILCS 25/4

The United States Department of Transportation’s standards for car seats are unbelievably detailed. It’s easier just to look for some kind of label on the car seat which says ““This restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. This restraint is certified for use in all motor vehicles and aircraft” to be assured that the car seat meets the standards of the United States Department of Transportation.

A parent need not only have a car seat but a parent must also ensure that their children under age 8 only ride in cars with car seats.

“The parent or legal guardian of a child under the age of 8 years shall provide a child restraint system to any person who transports his or her child.” 625 ILCS 25/4

Children Under The Age Of 2 Must Have A Rear Facing Car Seat In Illinois

Babies and small children’s bodies need special support. When  young children ride in a car facing forward, their heads (babies heads are disproportionately large and heavy) will be thrown forward, possibly resulting in spine, neck and head injuries.

A rear-facing car seat, however, will absorb most of the force from a car crash and will support the spine, neck and head.

For these reasons, in Illinois, a child under the age of 2 and weighing under 40 pounds OR less than 3’4” tall must be in a rear facing car seat.

“When any person is transporting a child in this State who is under the age of 2 years in a motor vehicle of the first division or motor vehicle of the second division weighing 9,000 pounds or less, he or she shall be responsible for properly securing the child in a rear-facing child restraint system, unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches tall.” 625 ILCS 25/4

If A Child Is Not In A Car Seat The Child Must Wear A Seatbelt In Illinois

Everyone has to wear a seatbelt in Illinois. Adults are responsible for the children who ride in their vehicles, including ensuring that they wear a seatbelt. Oddly, adults don’t have to force 16-17 year olds to wear a seatbelt, though, in Illinois.

“Every person, when transporting a child 8 years of age or older but under the age of 16, as provided in Section 4 of this Act, shall be responsible for properly securing that child in seat belts.” 625 ILCS 25/4a

Children can use only the lap belt (a shoulder belt does not give them the support they need) if the child sits in the back seat.

“A child weighing more than 40 pounds may be transported in the back seat of a motor vehicle while wearing only a lap belt if the back seat of the motor vehicle is not equipped with a combination lap and shoulder belt.” 625 ILCS 25/4

What Happens If A Child Does Not Use A Car Seat Or Wear A Seatbelt In Illinois

There are criminal penalties for a child not using the appropriate safety harness in Illinois

“A first violation of this Act is a petty offense punishable by a fine of $75” 625 ILCS 25/6

If a person is caught multiple times with a child without a car seat in Illinois, it will get more expensive.

“A second or subsequent violation of this Act is a petty offense punishable by a fine of $200” 625 ILCS 25/6(c)

In the case of a car seat offense, If the offender gets an appropriate car seat and takes an approved instructional course on how to install the car seat, will not be convicted of a car seat related offense.

“[A] person charged with a violation of Section 4 of this Act shall not be convicted if the person produces in court satisfactory evidence of possession of an approved child restraint system, as defined under this Act, and proof of completion of an instructional course on the installation of a child restraint system” 625 ILCS 25/6(a)

It’s conceivable that the failure to secure a child with a car seat or seat belt could be interpreted as child endangerment, a much more serious crime.

“A person commits endangering the life or health of a child when he or she knowingly: (1) causes or permits the life or health of a child under the age of 18 to be endangered; or (2) causes or permits a child to be placed in circumstances that endanger the child’s life or health.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-5(a)

“[B]y its plain meaning, the term [‘endanger’] refers to a potential or possibility of injury. The term does not refer to conduct that will result or actually results in harm, but rather to conduct that could or might result in harm.”  People v. Collins, 214 Ill.2d 206, 215, 291 Ill.Dec. 686, 824 N.E.2d 262 (2005)

“[Endangering the life or health of a child] is a Class A misdemeanor.” 750 ILCS 5/12C-5(d)

A class A misdemeanor can carry a possible jail sentence. “The sentence of imprisonment shall be a determinate sentence of less than one year.” 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-55

Failure to properly secure a child in a car may also be the basis for a modification of parenting time.

“After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development, the court shall enter orders as necessary to protect the child.” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)

Parenting time likely will not be impacted by the failure to properly restrain a car in a child but the court can order that the offending parent be forbidden from transporting the child in the future.

After a hearing, an Illinois domestic relations court can order “any other constraints or conditions that the court deems necessary to provide for the child’s safety or welfare.” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(9)

If a parent won’t even properly secure their child’s safety in a vehicle, there’s probably a million other things they won’t do. Bring these issues to the court’s attention before it’s too late. Contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to learn more about all of your options.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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