California visitors with children under 8 years old need to be aware of recent changes in the California car seat regulations. If your child does not have a car seat, you might be stopped by police and fined $100-$250 or be denied boarding a van or taxi cab. 

In a nutshell: 

  • Infants from 0-1 years must be in the back seat strapped into a rear-facing car seat until they reach 20 pounds (9 kg). Note: This changes to 0-2 years in 2017 so plan accordingly if you arrive after 2016.
  • Children between 1-8 years must still be in in the back seat (some exceptions apply) and strapped into either:
    -  A rear-facing car seat until they reach the maximum height/weight limit specified by the manufacturer (preferred)
  • -  A front-facing car seat with a 5 point harness until they reach the maximum height/weight limit for the seat
    -  A booster seat if under 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 meters) and over the height/weight limit for a car seat
    -  A regular seat belt in the back seat if taller than 4 feet 9 inches.
  • Children 8 years and older legally are not required to use a car or booster seat (though booster seats are still recommended for shorter children until they fit a seat belt properly). However, they are required to use a seat belt and remain in the rear seat.

Note:  The California regulations do not specify particular brands or types of car seats to use. However, as car seats may be designed and installed differently in the United States, make sure you choose the right car seat for your child and know how to install it properly using the LATCH system.

If you plan on traveling with children in California (or to other states with similar laws), you have several options:

  • Bring your car seats from home. Experts recommend using car seats on airplanes though some models may need to be checked in. Many visitors do this and it is often the preferred option if the additional luggage is not a concern and you know your car seat model is compatible with the automobile you will be driving. A good option may be an ultra-portable booster seat from BubbleBum®. Another option is to look at Rider Safe Travel Vest
  • Rent car seats from the rental car company. You will need to request the car seat when you make the reservations and the rental charge is typically $8-$12/day. Some car rental companies offer free car seats for certain members (e.g. Hertz/AAA). This is the most convenient option -- unless the rental car seat doesn't quite fit your child or you do not trust the safety of rental car-seats.
  • Rent car seats from independent services (e.g. BabysawayLittleluggage or Travelingbaby and many more -- you can google car seat rental). The makes sense if you're not renting a car but still plan to drive around. The charges are typically a little lower and range from $6-$10 a day.
  • Buy a car seat while in California. It may be cheaper to purchase a new car seat than to pay the rental charges. This strategy carries some risks as you will need to take the time to find a store (e.g. Babies R UsTarget, or Walmart) to purchase the car seat and your child will not be able to legally (and safely) be in a moving car until you obtain one.   
  • Take mass transit (e,g, bus, train or ferry) as they do not require car seats. Many have reduced fare options for children. For example, BART, SF MUNI, Los Angeles Metro and San Diego MTA are free for children under 5 years old; BART offers a $24 "red" ticket for only $9 for children 5-12 years old (purchase in person at the SFO airport Information booth located in each terminal or other select locations); San Diego MTA offers free fares for children 12 and under on weekends with paying adult.
  • Catch private buses (not van-taxis) to your destination as car seats are not legally required. 
  • Pre-book on-demand car, taxi or van-shuttles.  Several on-demand companies like private shuttles/vans will provide car seats if the entire van is reserved in advance. 

Travel with children can be very fun and educational. It just takes a little more preparation. Figuring out the logistics of the car seat is just one of the items that require some pre-planning.

Key Source:  CA DMV Driver Handbook