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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's the Deal with the 8/80 Rule?

By Katie M, with introduction previously written by Jen B. of Charlotte Smarty Pants

If you want to see the "art of the car seat" (as I call it), you need to see Jen P's car. Boy that thing is rigged up. When I was in her car it was funny to see all the stages represented of the "car seat life-cycle." Three car seats across the second row (the twins were rear-facing at that time and Isabel forward facing) and then Ansley is in the way back in a booster seat. She has to get in from the back tailgate door of the SUV since the car seats cannot be moved. That makes me laugh. So what are the North Carolina laws on car seats EXACTLY? It is different from state to state so it's worth talking about here. - JB

Becoming familar with NC's car seat rules is not an easy task! For instance, if you're like me and get all mixed up about the “8/80” rule (Is it “8 OR 80” or “8 AND “80”???), then this your blog. I pulled some key points from There is a TON of useful information on this site and you may want to go back to read it in its entirety - especially if you are a new mom or mom-to-be. But below are key points every mom should be familiar with.

What are the basic requirements of this law?
All children less than 16 years old must be buckled up in either the front or back seat.

A child who is younger than age 8 and who weighs less than 80 pounds must be properly secured in a child passenger restraint device (CRD) that meets Federal standards and is appropriate for the child's weight and height. Belt-positioning booster seats can be used for larger children between 40 and 80 pounds in lap and shoulder belt seating positions. Belt-positioning booster seats must NEVER be used with just a lap belt.

When a child reaches age 8 (regardless of weight) or 80 pounds (regardless of age), a properly fitted seat belt may be used instead of a booster.

If traveling in a car that does not have a lap and shoulder belt to properly secure a belt-positioning booster, a child (who weighs at least 40 pounds) may be restrained by a properly fitted lap belt only.

WARNING: Belt-positioning booster seats must NEVER be used with just a lap belt. Belt-positioning booster seats can only be used with lap and shoulder seat belts.

Is it "8 OR 80" or "8 AND 80"???
The issue of who is required to be in a child restraint (CR) or booster seat, and who can legally use just the vehicle seat belt, can be confusing. The answer lies in which question is being asked:

Q: Is my child required to be in a booster seat or other child restraint?
A: Children who are both less than age 8 AND less than 80 pounds are required to be in some type of child restraint. "Some type of child restraint" includes booster seats.

Q: When can I switch my child to just a seat belt without a booster seat?
A: When a child reaches age 8 (regardless of weight) OR reaches 80 pounds (regardless of age), a properly fitted seat belt may be used instead of a child restraint/booster to restrain the child. Note, however, that placing the shoulder belt under a child’s arm or behind the back is both dangerous and illegal.

SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. has developed a simple "5-Step Test" to see if a child is big enough to ride in a lap and shoulder belt combination:
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto 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 the answer is "no" to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to ride safely in the car.

When can I turn my baby around to face to the front of the car?
NC Law does not say anything about when to turn a child around to face the front of the vehicle, so it is legal to turn a child around whenever allowed to do so according to the manufacturer's instructions.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines are that children should face the rear of the vehicle until they are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 lb to decrease the risk of cervical spine injury in the event of a crash. Furthermore, the AAP recommends that children be kept rear-facing at least until age two for maximum protection. Children are five times safer riding rear-facing than forward-facing into the second year of life.

When can my child ride in the front seat?
It is legal in NC for a child to ride in the front seat:
• If the child is age 5 or older, OR
• If the child weighs at least 40 pounds, OR
• If the vehicle does not have an active passenger side air bag, OR
• If the vehicle does not have a rear seat where the child restraint can be installed.

However, it is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that:
• All children age 12 and under should ride buckled up in a rear seat.
• Infants in rear facing child safety seats should NEVER ride in the front seat of a vehicle with an active passenger side air bag.
• Small children should ride in a rear seat in full harness type child safety seats appropriate for their age and size.
• Larger children should ride in a rear seat in a belt positioning booster until large enough for the lap and shoulder belt to fit correctly.
• If a child over one year old MUST ride in the front seat with a passenger side air bag, put the child in a front facing full harness child restraint, a belt-positioning booster seat, or a correctly fitting lap and shoulder belt -- AND move the seat as far back as possible.
• If a child age 12 or younger MUST ride in the front seat with a passenger side air bag, have an air bag on/off switch installed and turn the air bag off when the child in the front seat.

If you're in the market for a first car seat or a new one, then keep checking in with Triad Smarty Pants. In the next week or so, I'll post some smarty tips on buying car seats - similar to my blog on stroller shopping.

Lots of info to digest! And like I mentioned above, there is plenty more to read about on This blog does not include all laws, safety tips and recommendations.

Do you have any comments on this post? Be sure to submit below!


Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the best way to dispose of outgrown car seats? I've heard that Goodwill won't take used car seats.

Cara said...

Just last night I was reading about how other countries are much more strict than the US. In fact Britax makes different seats for their UK line because of the strict laws. In Sweden a child is rear facing until they are 4.

Kari said...

Thank you so much for this post! I had been under the impression that it was 8 AND 80. We kept waiting for my oldest daughter to reach 80 lbs (which still hasn't happened!), and it finally became embarassingly apparent that I must have misunderstood! I had to dig around quite a bit for the regulations and never saw the great 5 step questionare. That would have made our life so much easier last year! Thanks for a relevant post!

Anonymous said...

If the car seat has not been in an accident and is still in good use, you can donate it to the WS/FCS social work office where Faith Lockwood can give it to a teen mom. 748-4007

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