This piece was originally published 2/15/2020, and has been revised and updated on 10/6/2022.
According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, 72% of children killed in motor vehicle crashes were occupants of a vehicle. (Pedestrians and bicyclists made up 17% and 3%, respectively.) While even one death is too many, it is worth noting that between 1975 and 2020, the total number of “occupant deaths” for children 13 and younger decreased by 61%. The main difference between the 1970’s and now? The introduction of seat belt laws, and moving children to the back seat and into car seats or booster seats.
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Our Las Cruces auto accident attorneys at the Law Office of Samuel I. Kane P.A. see the aftermath of car accidents due to negligent drivers. Sadly, people—including young children—may lose their lives or suffer severe personal injuries in these crashes. This is why it is so important to protect our youngest passengers with the proper safety restraints.
We have compiled this simple guide to our New Mexico car seat, booster seat, and seat belt laws to help keep our communities safe.
How Long Do Children Have to Ride in Car Seats in New Mexico?
The safest place for any child under the age of 13 to ride in any car is in the back seat. The law requires that all children must be buckled into a properly fitting child safety seat.
The appropriate type of seat depends on a child’s age and weight, and changes as they grow. A rear-facing car seat is required for all babies until they are a year old and weigh more than 20 pounds. Keeping them there longer—until about 35 pounds or up to 2 years as long as they fit in the seat—is recommended, although it is not required by law. The rear-facing position provides the best protection for an infant’s developing body should they be in a crash.
Once a child reaches these age and weight milestones, their car seat can be turned to face forward. Most car seats accommodate children up to 40 pounds, and some are good up to 60 pounds. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for guidance. It is important for all front-facing car seats to restrain the child with a safety harness across their torso.
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How Long Do Children Have to Ride in Booster Seats in New Mexico?
Once a child reaches 60 pounds (usually around age 5 or 6), they can graduate to a booster seat. The law states that a booster seat must be used until the child is 7. If they are still under 60 pounds, however, they must keep using it regardless of their age.
Booster seats come in two varieties: backless and with a high back. The choice of which is best depends on the car’s headrests. High-backed boosters have built-in neck support. A backless seat is okay as long as there are car headrests to protect the child.
Not unlike car seats, booster seats have very specific height and weight requirements that must be followed to ensure the proper safety of the child who is riding in the vehicle.
When Can a Child Start Using a Regular Seat Belt?
All children must ride in some type of car safety seat until the age of 7, regardless of their weight. After that, they can transition to a regular safety belt, as long as they are big enough.
Seat belts are designed for people who are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. As long as a child can sit up straight, all the way back on the seat with their knees bent at the seat’s edge, they are big enough to go without a booster. The seat belt must also cross over the center of their chest—not at their neck.
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New Mexico law does not require it, but the back seat is still the safest place for kids until about age 13. This is especially true if the car has passenger side airbags. They are not designed to protect small children. In the case of an accident, a child or even a small adult can suffer serious harm when the airbags inflate. This is also why infant car seats and booster seats should never be placed in the front seat. If for some reason they must be, the driver should deactivate the passenger side airbag.
In New Mexico, seat belts are required for everyone in a vehicle regardless of age. Failure to wear them, or to have children in an appropriate safety seat, is a primary enforcement offense. This means that a driver can be stopped and ticketed for the violation. The police do not have to have any other reason for the traffic stop.
Use Child Safety Restraints and Use them Properly
Advances in the design of child safety seats have made protecting our little ones easier than ever. But if the type of seat does not fit the child or if it is installed improperly, it could result in more serious injuries if there is an accident. Be sure to follow these tips:
- Make sure the seat is federally approved. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains the car seat and booster ratings assigned by the FAA.
- Study the manufacturer’s product specifications to make sure the seat is appropriate for the child’s age and weight.
- Children should not wear bulky clothing or coats in a car seat. Straps should fit snug against the child’s body instead.
- Install the seat properly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Safer New Mexico Now (Safer) is a state run program distributing car seats and boosters to low income families. Their trained technicians also offer seat installation and inspection clinics throughout the state. Check your community for car seat installation events. These are held periodically at local hospitals, fire houses, and libraries.
- Being in an accident can damage a car seat or booster seat, affecting its ability to protect the child in the future. Replace the seat after any collision.
What if My Child Has Been Hurt in a Las Cruces Car Accident?
If you are in an accident in New Mexico with a child in the car, hopefully their car seat, booster seat, or the seat belt did its job by minimizing their injuries. But if they are hurt, and the crash was caused by a negligent driver, you deserve compensation to restore their physical and emotional health and your family’s financial well-being.
For a car accident in Las Cruces, contact our Las Cruces personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Samuel I. Kane, P.C. We will schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. We can help you pursue the negligent driver who caused your child’s injuries and get you the financial compensation you deserve.
Please note that this article was created for advertisement purposes, and it does not constitute any contractual legal relationship, nor imply one.