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Tennessee law: Child safety in cars


Tennessee state law requires that all people riding in vehicles must wear safety belts. Children who are 8 years or younger or who are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches must sit in a child passenger restraint system, also known as a child safety seat. A child safety seat is an infant seat, convertible car seat or other car seat, or a booster seat. The kind of seat you need depends on your child’s size and age. These are the rules for car seats in Tennessee:

  • Children who are younger than 1 year and children of any age who weigh 20 pounds or less must sit in a rear-facing car seat that meets federal safety standards for motor vehicles. A rear-facing car seat gives your child the most protection for the head, neck, and spine. If your vehicle has a back seat, the car seat must be placed there. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat when there is an active airbag on the passenger side. Some vehicles have an on/off switch for the airbag. If this is the case in your vehicle and you must use the front seat, be sure to switch the airbag off.
  • Children ages 1 through 3 who weigh more than 20 pounds are required to use a forward-facing car seat that meets federal safety standards for motor vehicles. If your vehicle has a back seat, the car seat must be placed there.
  • Children ages 4 through 8 who are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches must use a belt-positioning booster seat that meets federal safety standards for motor vehicles. This type of seat simply raises your child to the right height to let him safely use the seatbelt of your vehicle. The seatbelt holds in both your child and the seat. The vehicle seatbelt should be adjusted to fit your child when he is sitting in the booster seat. If your vehicle has a back seat, the booster seat must be placed there.
  • If your child has special needs and cannot ride safely in a standard child safety seat, then you can use a special seat. The seat must be professionally made and must meet the federal standards that apply to your child’s age, height, and weight. A child who is age 8 or younger cannot use a lap belt or shoulder seatbelt alone. If your child uses a specially made seat, the driver of the vehicle must always carry a copy of a doctor’s note for the seat and be ready to present the note if asked.

Finding the right seat for your child

You can use the chart below to find the type of car seat required for your child.

Once you know what kind of safety seat your child needs, see your vehicle owner’s manual and the car seat manual for installing guidelines.

Type of seat
Required for children who are
Rear-facing car seat Either:
less than 1 year old, OR
weigh 20 pounds or less, no matter how old
Forward-facing car seat Age 1 to 3 years who weigh more than 20 pounds
Belt-positioning booster seat Age 4 to 8 years who are shorter than 4 feet 9

Commonly asked questions

My child is older than 1 year but weighs less than 20 pounds. Does Tennessee require that my child be in a rear-facing car seat?
Yes, any child who weighs less than 20 pounds must be placed in a rear-facing car seat.

My child has not turned 1 year old yet but weighs more than 20 pounds. What kind of car seat is required?
Any child who is younger than 1 year old must be placed in a rear-facing car seat.

My seven-year-old is 4 feet 10 inches tall. Should they be placed in a car seat?
No, but your child should always wear a safety belt.

Important safety information

  • Every car seat has an expiration date on the bottom that tells you when to stop using the seat. Never use a seat past that date, because the plastic will no longer be strong enough to properly protect your child.
  • Be sure the car seat is installed correctly. Use the car’s safety belt or LATCH system to lock the seat into the car. Your car seat should not move more than one (1) inch side to side or front to back. Be sure the car seat straps fit correctly over your child, based on the type of seat you are using.
  • To get help installing your car seat or to have it checked by a certified inspector, go to or call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK. You can also get information on child passenger safety at
  • Be sure to fill out the product card from the maker of the seat and mail it. That way, they can contact you if the seat is recalled.

Visit This Web site for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a list of all car seats recalled since 1990. It also has another large list that ranks many different car seats available today, ranking them on how easy they are to use and how well they secure your child.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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