Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children under the age of fourteen. The U.S. recorded 1,184 traffic fatalities of children fourteen or younger in 2021, an increase of approximately 8% from the 1,101 deaths in 2020.
To change this statistic, Maine implemented mandatory car seat laws to maximize children’s safety while riding in vehicles.
Violating these laws can result in traffic infractions and monetary fines, but these penalties pale compared to the devastating injuries unrestrained children can suffer in car crashes.
Maine frequently passes new car seat laws as car seat safety experts make recommendations.
Car seats differ based on the age and size of the child needing the seat.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car seats reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants under one and 54% for toddlers between one and four years old in passenger vehicles.
This is based on children being in the correct car seat for their age and size. Car seat manuals will include labels and guides for height and weight specifications.
Although not required by law, most car seats must be replaced if they are involved in an accident. The car seat manufacturer can provide more information about whether your car seat falls into this category.
Children between birth and two years old need a rear-facing car seat for maximum safety. Rear-facing car seats face the rear of the vehicle in the back seat.
Many infant seats can only be used as rear-facing car seats. Rear-facing seats provide the highest level of protection and should be utilized as long as possible. All types of rear-facing car seats have a five-point harness seat belt.
According to Maine car seat laws, a rear-facing must be used for children under two years old unless the child exceeds the weight and height limits recommended by the manufacturer.
Many convertible car seats begin as rear-facing seats. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing height limit, you can turn the car seat around and attach it with a top tether to the vehicle.
Children typically stay in a forward-facing car seat between the years of three and six. Forward-facing car seats still include a five-point harness system as a seatbelt and offer more protection than a basic seatbelt.
The Maine 5-point harness law requires a child to be restrained in a harness as long as they are under fifty-five pounds.
The car seat utilized after outgrowing a forward-facing car seat is called a booster seat. A booster seat goes in the backseat of a vehicle and helps the seatbelt sit correctly on a child’s body.
The seat belt should fit snugly across their upper thighs, not across their stomach, and lie across their chest and shoulder.
Children can stay in a booster seat from when they outgrow a forward-facing car seat until they are eight years old, exceed eighty pounds, and exceed fifty-seven inches in height.
Securing a child under two years of age in anything other than a rear-facing car seat is against the law in Maine. A violation is considered a traffic infraction and is subject to a $50 fine. The fine increases to $125 for a second offense and $250 for a third or subsequent offense.
Securing a child under fifty-five pounds in anything other than a child restraint system with an internal harness is also against the law.
A violation is considered a traffic infraction that carries the same penalties listed above. Allowing a child under eight years old, 80 pounds, and 57 inches tall to ride without a booster seat is also an infraction that carries the same monetary penalties.
Maine requires children to sit in the backseat until they are twelve, if possible. A child riding in the front seat must wear a seat belt like any other passenger. If a vehicle does not have a backseat, the child can sit in the front seat with a seat belt.
As you can see, utilizing a car seat is not only required by law, but is crucial to preventing devastating injuries to children during car accidents. In some cases, failing to put a child in a car seat when required can negatively impact a personal injury claim.
That is because Maine uses the rule of modified comparative negligence to determine whether and how much the plaintiff in a personal injury claim can recover.
Modified comparative negligence means that the plaintiff can recover as long as they are not 50% or more to blame for their losses.
Consider that the plaintiff was in a car accident with their unrestrained child in the backseat. Although the collision was minor, the unrestrained child struck their head on the window and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
While the collision technically caused the injury, the injury would not have occurred if the child had been properly secured in a car seat.
Thus, a jury could find the plaintiff more than 50% responsible for the child’s injury and resulting losses, making the plaintiff unable to recover.
Maine continues to update its car seat laws as research provides more information on child vehicle safety.
Just because you knew the car seat laws a decade ago does not mean you know the current requirements and prohibitions. Luckily, our team stays up to date on new car seat laws and can explain them.
Mann Law takes the time to meet with all our clients one-on-one and answer any of their questions. Reach out to our office today to schedule your free initial consultation.