child safely buckled into a car seat

Children should ride in rear-facing car seats until at least the age of two.

Although child passenger safety has radically improved in recent decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that car crashes remain the leading cause of death in children age 4 and over.  Their recommendations inform the current Maryland car seat laws, as well as other laws that keep your children safe during travel.

Maryland Car Seat Laws for Kids Under 8

As of October 1, 2013, Maryland law states:

  • Children under the age of eight must ride in an appropriate safety seat, unless they are taller than 4 foot 9 inches.  This seat must be a federally approved car seat or booster seat.
  • Taxis are exempt, however it is highly recommended that you bring a car seat if possible.  

In addition, the AAP recommends:

  • Keeping children in rear-facing seats as long as possible, at least until age 2. This is the safest way for your little ones to travel.
  • Switching to forward-facing only when the child exceeds the rear-facing weight limit.  It’s okay if their feet touch the back seat. They’ll still be safe and comfortable.
  • Changing to a belt-positioning booster seat only after they outgrow their car seat.  Again, always consult the manufacturer instructions for weight limits.  

The above laws and recommendations typically cover children through age eight.  Your child’s size, not age, should always be the deciding factor for safety seat choice, however.  Keep your child in the appropriate safety seat as long as possible, because their safety decreases with each change.  

Maryland Car Seat Laws for Kids Over 8

Maryland also has safety laws in place for older children:

  • Children between ages eight and sixteen must wear vehicle seat belts, if not restrained by a safety seat. This is the case whether they ride in the front or back seat.
  • Children under sixteen must not ride in the bed of an unenclosed pickup truck.  Some counties prohibit anyone from riding in pickup truck beds, so check your local laws if you plan to do this.

The AAP also recommends:

  • Using lap and shoulder belts once the child outgrows the booster seat.  Children will be comfortable with a properly adjusted shoulder belt.
  • Keeping children younger than thirteen riding in the back seat.  While it is legal for them to ride in the front seat, the back seat is still safest for them.

Car Seat Inspections and Other Resources

If you need assistance buying or installing a car seat, please contact Kids in Safety Seats (KISS) at 800-370-SEAT.  For more KISS resources, including free safety inspections, visit their website.  Fire stations and hospitals often offer free inspections, as well.  See the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration site to locate these resources near you.