Driving With a Child in the Back Seat – New Mexico Safety Seat Laws and Car Seat Guide

April 20th, 2018 | by RON BELL

Driving With a Child in the Back Seat – New Mexico Safety Seat Laws and Car Seat Guide

Choosing a proper child safety seat may seem like a daunting task yet it is a vital legal requirement with which all driving parents must comply. This week’s blog post will make this difficult task a little easier with a handful of practical information.

It is one of the fundamental facts of life that parents will go to great lengths to keep their children out of harm’s way. Still, each year, 9.2 million children and adolescents, between the ages of zero and nineteen years old, are treated in emergency rooms across the U.S. for various kinds of injuries and trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Arguably, some of these accidents are difficult to avoid. They may happen because a child is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others, however, are entirely preventable. For example, the CDC reports that in 2015, 663 children twelve years of age and younger were killed in motor vehicle accidents. In fact, car crashes are among the leading causes of death among children in the U.S., yet many of these deaths could have been prevented. How so?

As much as 35% of children who were killed in car crashes in 2015 were not securely buckled, either in car seats, booster seats, or with seat belts informs the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). On the other hand, the same report states that the lives of as many as 248 children under five were saved by car seats in 2015. 

A correctly chosen and installed car seat is a valuable life-saving tool for children in the event of an accident. In fact, car seats have been proven to decrease the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. Therefore, knowing how to choose and set-up a car seat or booster should be of utmost importance to all parents. Admittedly, though, selecting a good seat from an array of dozens of different kinds and virtually thousands of models and designs may seem intimidating. This post will narrow down children car seats to four basic categories and provide some practical advice on how to choose the correct one for your child. First, though, let’s review New Mexico’s laws concerning car seats.

Child Car Seat Laws in New Mexico

Apart from being a reasonable and effective safety measure, using child car seats or booster seats is a requirement by law across the U.S. In the State of New Mexico, laws pertaining to specific kinds of car seats vary according to the child’s age and weight:

  • Children under the age of 1 are required to travel in a rear-facing seat placed in the back seat of a car. If a vehicle doesn’t have back seats, then the child may be secured in a safety seat in the front passenger seat as long as the passenger-side airbag has been deactivated.
  • Children ages 1 to 5 as well as those weighing less than 40 pounds regardless of age must travel in a child safety seat.
  • Children ages 5 and 6 or weighing less than 60 pounds regardless of age must travel in a child safety seat or a booster seat.
  • Children ages 7 to 12 must travel in a child safety seat, a booster seat, or be wearing a seatbelt if they’ve outgrown a safety seat and a booster seat.
  • Children ages 13 to 17 must use a seatbelt.

Car Seat Types

Parents worrying about which brand or design of child safety seat to choose need to look for only two things: 

1.) Any brand or model of car seat is safe and acceptable as long as it bears a label stating that it meets all federal motor vehicle standardsDMV.org also cautions that it must be labeled as made after January 1, 1981, as this was the date the first federal car seat crash test standard was introduced.

2.) Before making your purchase, check if the manufacturer has recently recalled the particular model you’re considering. This can be done online at the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) website by entering the model and date-of-manufacture number. 

Other than those two things, the only concern is that the seat fits the child well and that it is appropriate for the child’s age, weight, and height. The NHTSA provides a handy chart that will help parents with that. There are four ways of securing children in vehicles, each suited for a different age or weight group:

  • A rear-facing car seat is best suited for infants and young children but, according to the NHTSA requirements, it should be used as long as possible, preferably until a child is three years old provided they haven’t outgrown it before. Rear-facing safety seats offer the best protection to the child’s fragile neck and spinal cord.
  • A forward-facing car seat can be used with children as young as one year old, provided they have outgrown maximum weight and height limit stated by a rear-facing car seat manufacturer. Forward-facing car seats are equipped with a harness, and a tether that limits a child’s forward movement during a crash and can be used until a child is seven years old if they don’t reach the weight or height limit before.
  • Booster seats are used with the car’s seatbelt, and their purpose is to ensure the best fit for the seatbelt so that it rests on the stronger parts of a child’s body.
  • Use of seat belts is mandatory in New Mexico for all persons thirteen years of age and up. It is important to remember that it must be placed across the upper thighs and the shoulder rather than the stomach or the neck as improper use may result in severe spinal injury in an accident.

Full descriptions of each basic type of safety seat, along with further divisions into different designs and a handful of other practical information, can be found on the NHTSA webpage dedicated to car seats and booster seats.

Possible Personal Injury Claims Related to Safety Seats

In 2017, a staggering 775,000 seats from six manufacturers were recalled from the market because of an underlying issue that compromised their safety and usability. Thankfully, this time no children were reported to be injured in relation to any of the recalled products. However, under product liability law, if a consumer experiences injury or harm related to the use of a product, the manufacturer of the product, or in some cases the vendor, can be held liable for it. The liability may arise from defective design, defective manufacture, or defects in warnings and instructions.

Choosing a well-adjusted and size-appropriate safety seat for your child will likely require some time and effort. Even after reading our blog post, you may feel the need to further educate yourself on the issue. We commend such efforts. After all, they will not only ensure that you comply with the requirements of the law but also that your child stays safe during the period of their life when they’re most vulnerable.

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