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Tennessee Car Seat Laws

A Summary of Child Car Seat Laws in Tennessee

Car Seat Laws as they apply to the state of Tennessee

  • Tennessee law requires all children under 1 year of age or those who weigh less than 20 pounds to ride on rear-facing seats.
  • The law requires children 1-3 years and those weighing 20 pounds or more to ride on a forward-facing seat.
  • Children ages 4-8 years who are shorter than 4’9’’ are required to ride on federally approved booster seats.
  • Tennessee recommends keeping children 12 years or younger in the rear seat.

Rear-facing Car Seat Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee law requires all children under 1 year of age or those who weigh less than 20 pounds to ride on rear-facing seats that are federally approved and secured in the back seat. However, according to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), children should ride rear-facing for a minimum of 2 years or until they exceed the manufacturer’s weight and height limits. Rear-facing seats offer the best protection for infants. They protect the child’s neck and spine by absorbing impact forces and holding the child in place in the event of an accident. Rear-facing seats can either be infant-only seats or convertible seats. Infant-only seats fit newborns well and usually have lower weight limits (30-35 lbs.) Children usually outgrow them fairly quickly and then transition to convertible seats which have higher weight limits (up to 40 pounds). Children can safely remain in convertible seats until age 4. Rear-facing seats should also be reclined at an angle of 45-degrees to keep the baby’s airways open. Remember to fasten your child to the seat with the harness and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Forward-Facing Car Seat Laws in Tennessee

The law requires children 1-3 years and those weighing 20 pounds or more to ride on a forward-facing seat secured in the rear seat. However, these are minimal guidelines, and it is a good idea to use a forward-facing seat only when your child has outgrown the rear-facing position. A convertible seat can double as a forward-facing seat, so make sure to turn yours to face forward. Other types of seats in this category include forward-facing only seats and combination seats (doubles as a booster). Use a seat with a five-point harness. This is because when the harness straps are kept snug across the child’s body, they help protect the child’s fragile body parts (neck, spine, and head) by directing the crash forces away and towards the stronger body parts (shoulders and hips). Most seats of this type can support up to 65 pounds, so this means children can ride on them until when closer to age 7. Forward-facing seats should be installed in an upright-position and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Booster Seat Regulations in Tennessee

Children ages 4-8 years who are shorter than 4’9” are required to ride on federally approved booster seats. Belt-positioning booster seats help in raising a child so that lap-shoulder belts can fit perfectly over the body. The lap portion should lie flat across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should lie flat across the chest. Booster seats should be used with lap-shoulder belts only. There are two types of booster seats – high back and low back. The high back is designed to provide support to a child’s head and neck in case a headrest is not available while the low back is used when the car has headrests in the rear seats. With most booster seats accommodating weights of up to 80 pounds, children can reach age 12 while still riding on them, however this depends on their growth rate. It is important to consider your child’s height before moving them to safety belts. This is because a height of 4’9” is required to fit in seat belts. Anyone who wears a safety belt and is shorter than this height may be at risk of neck and stomach injuries due to misplaced seat belt straps. Children should also be able to sit all the way back against the seat with knees bent at the edge of the seat before transitioning to seat belts.

Requirements for children to use the front seat in Tennessee

Tennessee recommends keeping children 12 years or younger in the rear seat if one is available. This is supported by AAP which also says that the back seat is generally safer. Front seats usually have passenger-side airbags which can be lethal to children when they deploy. Also, never place a rear-facing seat in front of an active airbag, if you must place a child safety seat in the front seat, make sure the airbag is disabled.

Car Seat Law regarding Children under 16 in Tennessee

Children in this category who are older than 8 years or 4’9’’ or taller must be restrained in a seat belt system that meets the federal standards.

Law on leaving a child in a car in Tennessee

It is illegal to leave a child unsupervised in a car if the engine is running or if the car keys are in the passenger compartment. Also, you are not allowed to leave the child if the conditions can pose a risk to the child’s health or if the child is not accompanied by someone 12 years or older.

Law on Smoking in a car with a child in Tennessee

There are no laws regarding smoking in a car with child passengers. We do not recommend smoking in a vehicle with children present.

Car Seat Law Exemptions in Tennessee

Children with special needs or other medical issues are allowed to use modified child restraint systems that meet their needs. However, a driver transporting such a child must carry a doctor’s prescription. Taxis and other commercial vehicles are exempted from following the state’s car seat laws. However, the drivers of such vehicles must allow you to install a child safety seat in their vehicles.

Law on Car Seat Replacement in Tennessee

The state does not have laws regarding the replacement of car seats. You should check the manufacturer’s instructions contained in the manual. Also, remember to replace car seats after a moderate or severe accident.

More Tennessee Laws