My wife and I just celebrated the birth of our third child. That joyous event comes with it a whole bunch of new worries and plans like updating estate plans, opening college savings accounts, and applying for new insurance. The birth of a child also comes with the worst task I can think of: installing the baby seat in the car. Many of my friends, family, and clients do not understand that a child car seat is not just a good recommendation from their doctor, but also a legal requirement under Minnesota law for every child who is under eight years old and four feet nine inches tall.

Minnesota Statute 169.685 states that all children who are under the age of eight and shorter than four feet nine inches must be placed in a child restraint system that meets federal motor vehicle safety standards. Any driver who transports a child without the proper system installed can be cited and fined not more than $50. That means any driver, regardless of circumstances. If you give your friend and her child a ride to the grocery store, and the child is under 8 years old and shorter than 4’9″, then you are likely to be ticketed unless you have a proper child seat installed and (of course) the child is properly buckled into that seat. It also means that not just any seat will do. Car seats come with expiration dates and safety standards can change. The old seat that you have in your garage from when your children were little probably no longer fits the bill, and don’t even think of propping a kid up on a phone book so the adult seatbelt fits. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize the law’s requirements until after they get a ticket. And ignorance of what the law says is not an excuse for failing to comply. However, there are exceptions and the fine may be waived in certain circumstances.

For vacationing parents, a car seat is not required in a “vehicle for hire” such as a taxi, airport limousine or bus, or in an emergency medical vehicle or school bus. However, it is required in a rental car (most rental agencies will also give you a car seat for a fee). The law also allows an exception for children with medical conditions, physical disabilities, or a body size that does not allow for safe car seat use with a typed statement from a physician. Like all medical exceptions to the traffic laws, this statement is subject to statutory requirements (including that it was written within 6 months before the traffic stop occurred, not after) and should be kept on the driver’s person or in the vehicle at all times so that it can be produced upon request of a law enforcement officer. If you leave the note at home, it can be presented to the Court or police department after the citation is issued, but that hassle is avoided if it is left in the car. The statute also allows the fine to be waived if the driver buys or obtains a child safety seat for the exclusive use of that driver within 14 days of receiving the citation (but that doesn’t save you if you have the seat and just didn’t bother to buckle the child in).

So if you have a legal problem, a nagging legal question, or if life just happened and you don’t know where to turn, give the attorneys at Swenson Lervick a call. We are here to guide you through it all.

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