Parents need to be aware of the laws that govern the proper restraints of their minor children when it comes to motor vehicles. The following California vehicle code sections are for all motor vehicles except buses and motorcycles:  California Vehicle Code Section 27360(a) cites any parent/guardian for each child who is not properly restrained in the rear seat, unless the child is six years or older, or weighs sixty pounds or more (as of January 1, 2005). Section 27360(b) cites the driver of the vehicle only if the parent is not present. The exceptions to the above law are:

A court-sanctioned exemption, a medical condition, physical unfitness, or size;

A life-threatening emergency or transport in an authorized emergency vehicle;

A child over forty pounds in the rear seat of a vehicle with lap belts only.

California Vehicle Code Section 27360(c) allows a child or ward under the age of six who weighs less than 60 pounds to ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle, so long as he or she is properly secured in a Child Passenger Restraint System (CPRS) that meets applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards, under the following circumstances:

There is no rear seat;

The rear seats are side-facing jump seats or rear facing seats;

The CPRS cannot be installed properly in the rear seat;

All rear seats are already occupied by children under the age of twelve;

Medical reasons necessitate that the child or ward not ride in the rear seat (the court may require satisfactory proof of the child’s medical condition).

However, a child may not ride in the front seat with an active passenger airbag if the child is:

Younger than one; Weighs less than twenty pounds; Is riding in a rear-facing CPRS;

Other Occupants

California Vehicle Code Section 27360.5(a) cites any parent/guardian for each child who is unrestrained and is six years of age or older and less than sixteen years old, or is less than six and weighs sixty pounds or more. Exceptions to this one include the following:

Taxi driver on a city street with a fare-paying passenger;

Back seat of a limousine or taxi cab for hire;

Sleeper berth;

Newspaper delivery, rural mail carriers, solid waste/recycled collections;

Passenger duly certified by physician, surgeon, or chiropractor (must state condition and reason) can’t comply;

Pickup Truck Law

California Vehicle Code Section 23116 cites any driver and/or persons riding unrestrained in or on the back of a pickup truck or flatbed.

Unattended Child in a Motor Vehicle

California Vehicle Code Section 15620(a) states any person responsible for a child aged six or under may not leave the child inside a vehicle without a person who is at least twelve years of age if there are conditions that present a significant risk to the child’s health and safety (or the engine is running and/or the keys are in the ignition).

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of thirteen should sit in the back seat, regardless of whether or not there is a side passenger airbag. Thirteen may seem to be an arbitrarily picked age, but there have been surveys conducted showing that most children at this age are quite a bit smaller than the average sized adult. Thus, to reduce the possible risk of any serious automobile accident injury, it makes some sense to make sure all children under this age sit in the back seat.

The bottom line for this chapter is that, as a matter of law, all parents assume legal responsibility for their children. California law enforces this responsibility through the California court system. If your minor child is charged with a crime, it will be supervised by the California juvenile court system. If your minor child is named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit, and you are named as an additional defendant as the parent, it will be administered in the California Superior Court system. Education is important, and every parent must educate his or her children early as to the consequences of their actions so they are never faced with either court system.

Mark C. Blane is a San Diego Child Injury/Accident Attorney and the managing lawyer of the Law Offices of Mark C. Blane, a San Diego, California Personal Injury Law Office dedicated to representing families of minor children injured due to the negligence of others. If you or a loved one, who is a minor child, has been injured or killed in a child accident in San Diego, please order your free copy of Mr. Blane's book, The 10 Secrets You Need To Know About Your Injury Case, BEFORE You Call A Lawyer. It is full of helpful information that will help you protect your legal rights and it normally sells for $16.95.  However, it is free to all California residents, or those injured in a California accident. Also, you can check out Mr. Blane's book on California child injuries called Justice for the Injured Child available for sale; this book has become a California parent's legal survival guide to their child's California accident case.