The following is a summary of Virginia's new child safety seat law, which went into effect Jan. 1.
1. What does the law require?
The statute requires any parent or legal guardian to secure any child under age 4 in an approved safety seat when the child rides in a motor vehicle registered in Virginia. The safety seats must be approved by the state police. The law also applies only to cars manufactured after January 1968.
2. When did the law take effect?
Saturday, Jan. 1.
3. Are there any exceptions to the law?
Yes. Infants who weigh more than 40 pounds may be secured by an automobile seat belt. A seat belt also may be used if the child's size or weight makes using a safety seat impractical. Additionally, if a physician determines that a safety seat is impractical because of a child's weight, physicial unfitness or other medical reason, the child is exempt. But the driver of the vehicle must carry a written statement from the doctor stating the reasons for the exemption, or face a fine for failing to do so.
Also, any vehicle in which using the child seat is impractical--such as two-seat cars in which two adults are riding--is exempt, as are those cases where the number of passengers in a car makes the seat impractical to use. Buses, public transportation, school buses and farm vehicles are also exempt.
4. What if I can't afford to buy a seat for my child?
Parents unable to afford child seats may apply for free seats under the Virginia Department of Transportation Safety's loan program, which has eligibility guidelines similar to those used by welfare agencies. Application forms may be obtained from Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles offices as well as some insurance firms and local health departments. Also, in Northern Virginia, Alexandria and Arlington hospitals lend seats to new parents or rent them for a nominal fee.
5. What are the penalities for violating the law?
The law carries a $25 civil fine for drivers who do not secure their child in a safety seat or who use a seat state police have not approved. There is also a $10 fine for parents not carrying a doctor's exemption statement after one has been issued. Some courts may waive or suspend penalties, however, if the defendant is unable to buy a seat.
6. How can I determine which seats have been approved by the state police?
Local state police offices have a list of approved seats. In Arlington, call 521-1810; in Alexandria, call 780-5300; in Fairfax County, call 971-8222; in Loudoun County, call (703) 777-8030 (Leesburg); and in Prince William, call 791-3101.