The Law's No Joke: Don't Be An April Fool About Child Safety

Hi everyone!

Happy Easter and Passover! We had our DIY backyard egg hunt yesterday and it was a blast! Now I have to run to the store tomorrow and scoop up half priced eggs for next year. It's April Fool's Day, but instead of a fun prank post, let's be serious and talk safety. I'm in all the Facebook mom groups (well, except Scarsdale Moms—my zip code doesn't qualify!) and the topic of Free-Range Parenting is going around.

Well-meaning curious moms are always asking, When can I turn their car seat around? Can I leave a middle-schooler alone in the car? Can I install a secret nanny cam? As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose in the comments, but, opinions aside, what's the law say?  We did some research and below are the New York State laws on some common mom questions. (BUT if you want to live above the law, check out our list of 10 Safety Mistakes Moms Make.)

But first, don't forget we are giving away free tickets to the 2018 New York Baby Show on May 19 & 20 at Pier 94! This will once again be the largest show for new and expectant parents in the country. The normal ticket price is $30 per family (for 2 adults and up to 4 children), and $20 per individual, but if you're one of the first 10 to click the link, it's yours for free! CLICK HERE FOR FREE TICKETS


Child Safety Laws in New York State 



When can I turn the car seat forward? 

This is the most popular safety post on mom groups. It takes many forms: My kid is uncomfortable, or their legs are bent, or they're throwing up, or just mysteriously crying and maybe turning them is the answer. A debate ensues but there IS a legal answer, listed below, that works until November 1, 2019, but then the law in New York State is changing. Though it is legal to turn them before they achieve that crucial vertebrae bone fusing that starts at age 3 and takes until age 6 to become strong like an adult's, we at BGC recommend keeping them rear-facing as long as possible. If you think they are sad because they hate rear facing, first try to adjust the car seat, make sure their clothes or the belts aren't digging into them, give them some fun toys to hold in the car, try a musical headrest mirror to distract them, and make sure the ceiling vent isn't blowing hot or cold air on them and making them uncomfortable. There may be something else going on that you didn't think of.


  • Any child younger than 4 must ride in a federally approved child safety seat that's properly secured by a safety belt or a universal child restraint anchorage system.
  • All children younger than 8 years old must be secured in a child safety seat restraint system. This includes safety seats, harness vests and booster seats attached via safety belts.
  • Any child younger than 4, but who weighs more than 40 pounds, may be secured in a booster seat with a lap and shoulder belt.
  • If all safety seats are occupied, a child who would normally require a booster seat should instead be secured by a lap belt.
  • Every rider younger than 16 must use a seat belt.


  • No person shall operate a motor vehicle unless: all back seat passengers under the age of 4 are restrained in the proper seat, which shall be rear-facing whenever the passenger being restrained is under the age of 2 except in the event that the weight or height of such passenger under the age of two exceeds the occupant size and weight recommendations of the manufacturer of such rear-facing seat, such seat may be forward-facing.

Source 1 and Source 2

And in case you're wondering, the law applies to taxis and Ubers. Just not buses: Public transportation buses are exempt from the occupant restraint law. However, children under the age of 4 must be restrained in a federally approved car seat while riding on a school bus [Section 1229-c(11). As of November 1, 2017, the law applies to taxi and livery drivers. There's no New York law that defines a minimum age to ride in the front seat, but the age in most states that make this determination is 12 years old.


When can I leave my kids alone?

There's no official age, but New York State suggests you start considering being able to leave your child home alone at 12 years old, based on the child. They offer a checklist:

  • How mature is the child?
  • Does the child know how and when to contact emergency help?
  • Is the child able to prepare food for him/herself?
  • Are there hazards to the child in the environment such as accessible knives, power tools, a stove or oven?

There's no age for being alone in the car either, but socially it's considered a big no-no, and people will call the cops. And by law Neglect is considered "Failure to exercise a minimum degree of care in providing a child under 18 with proper supervision or guardianship" and Endangerment is "Acts in a way likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child younger than 17."

In short it's a gray area, especially if the weather is hot or cold, People's opinions land on both sides of this issue, but I think a fair point is if enough time has elapsed that the cops have shown up, it's definitely been too long. Connecticut's alone-in-car law is a child under 12, so again, 12 seems to be the magic number. 




Can I Install a secret nanny cam?

Who doesn't want to know what's going on when the nanny or babysitter (or even Grandpa!) is watching the kids? Especially when toddlers reach their "story stage", they might tell you something happened with a babysitter that might not be true, and you wouldn't want to act on misinformation. Besides being nosy and a bit (okay, a lot...) shady, what's the law on nanny cams? It varies from state to state, but in New York the the law is listed below.  

  • You have the right to install and use hidden surveillance cameras in your home.
  • You cannot install nanny cams in the bathroom used by the nanny or in the nanny's private room if it is a live-in employment situation.
  • Nanny cams must be used for reasonable purposes, e.g., making sure that an infant or child is being properly cared for. An employer could run into legal barriers if he or she has installed secret videotaping devices for a commercial enterprise, to share private matters publicly or for purposes of voyeurism. 

So, put in your nanny cam, but if you see shit going down, don't post the video to Facebook or other public viewing sites. A lot of caregivers have said they are completely against them and wouldn't want to work in a household with one. So if you don't want to risk a breach of trust, the cool thing would be to inform them about them from the start and see how that conversation goes. 



Got a question about a law not listed above? Send us an email or comment and we'll add it to the list. This article was based on research from New York State public information about laws, so please do your own research to make sure the laws haven't changed before you act on any of this information.

That's it for this week! For our (almost always free) Event of the Day, follow us on Facebook or Instagram. And as always, check our website for events and our easy-to-navigate chart of every weekly kids library program in Westchester.

See you next time!