Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Car seats, booster seats and seat belts, when used correctly, can make a huge impact on your child’s safety. For babies under a year old, proper safety seats can reduce the risk of death by 71%. The risk goes to 54% for children between the ages of one and two.

On May 7, legislation was signed that will update NJ’s car seat safety rules, making them more specific and hopefully safer for kids. Here’s what you need to know about the changes will take effect on September 1, 2015.

– Children two years old and younger and weighing 30 pounds or less must remain in a rear-facing car seat with a five-point harness, even if your child’s feet push up against the back seat.
– Children two to four years old who weigh less than 40 pounds must be secured in a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat, both with a five-point harness.
– Children between the ages of four and eight years old and under 57 inches should be secured in a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness or a booster seat.
– If there are no back seats in the vehicle, the child may be secured in a car seat in the front of the car. However, if the child will be rear-facing, the passenger-side air bag must be disabled or turned off.
– New fines for not following these rules will be $50 and $75.

Montclair Police Officer Barnes, who has been a trained Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) since 2005 and just became an Instructor for new CPSTs this year, feels that these changes are a good idea, especially if they make parents more aware of the right way to use safety seats. “Rather than focusing on enforcement, I hope that this becomes more of an educational conversation,” says Officer Barnes. “These changes are not meant to be adversarial. …They are really to help keeps kids safe.”

Criticism of New Jersey’s current laws are that they are too vague, stating only that children under eight years old and weighing less than 80 pounds must be secured in a car seat or booster seat. Most parents also keep babies under a year old and weighing less than twenty pounds rear-facing. The new legislation is more in line with the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Officer Barnes explains that it’s important to understand when it’s safe to turn your child to front-facing, when to transition them to a booster and how to make sure that all the safety harnesses are properly secured. He adds, “Even the best car seat in the world won’t keep your child safe if it’s not used correctly.”

For Montclair parents who have questions about the car seat laws or would like help installing their car seats, Officer Barnes and Officer Rivera, the other CPST for the Montclair Police Department, are available for help. This is a free service provided by the Police Department’s Community Service Unit. The officers are available by appointment five days a week, throughout the day and into the evening. “There’s a lot of information online about car seats, especially when making a purchasing decision. There’s less information available on the mechanics of these seats,” says Officer Barnes. “There’s a lot you can learn from a trained technician.”

To learn more about car seat safety or to set up your car seat installation appointment, you can contact Officer Barnes at 973-509-4775, ext. 4635 or Officer Rivera can be reached at 973-509-4775, ext. 4642 or For both officers, email is suggested for a quicker response.

Parents can also take their car seats to the Essex Morris Car Seat Checkpoint. Please not that this free-of-charge checkpoint follows the Livingston school district’s schedule. If the schools are closed or delayed due to snow, for example, so is the checkpoint.

Essex Morris Car Seat Checkpoint
Atlantic Ambulance Building
120 Dorsa Avenue
Livingston, NJ
Open Wednesdays
September through May: 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
June, July, and August: 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.