Car seats are essential when taking the kids for a ride in the car. Even if you're just driving down the street to a neighbor's home, buckling up is crucial. Accidents happen at the most unexpected of times and often when we're close to home.

You know the importance of using a car seat, but could your car seat actually be breaking the law?

You Stopped Using a Car Seat Too Early

In the state of California, children who are eight years of age or younger must be sitting in a proper safety seat. The age limit may vary from one state to another, but experts recommend keeping a child in a safety seat for as long as safely possible.

But it's important to make sure that you adhere to the weight and height limits of the seat you are using. Ignoring these limits may make riding in the car just as unsafe as not using a safety seat at all.

You're Not Using the Right Car Seat

The CDC offers guidance on what types of car seats to use depending on the age of the child.

Rear-Facing Car Seat

From birth up to the age of two, children should be using a rear-facing car seat. Infants and young children should be sitting and buckled in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the weight and height limits of the seat. This information should be listed in the owner's manual and possibly the product description.

Forward-Facing Car Seat

Children aged two to five should be using a forward-facing car seat. When children outgrow their previous seat, they need to move on to a forward-facing seat, but the seat should remain in the backseat.

The child should stay in this seat until he or she reaches the upper height or weight limit.

Booster Seat

Once a child reaches age five – or outgrows a forward-facing car seat – it's time to upgrade to a booster seat. The child should be buckled up in a belt positioning seat until the belt fits properly.

A seat belt fits properly when the lap belt sits across the thighs and not the stomach. The shoulder belt should sit across the chest and not the neck. Children should be kept buckled in the back seat for the best possible protection.

Seat Belt

Children can move out of a booster seat once a seat belt fits them properly. Again, the lap belt should lay across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt should lay across the chest.

All children should stay buckled up in the backseat until the age of 12. Airbags can kill young children sitting in the front seat.

What happens if your car seat doesn't meet state laws? You could be fined or penalized for using an inappropriate seat.

Fines vary, depending on the state. In California, those who are violating car seat laws face a $500 fine and will have a point added to their license. These fines are imposed on each child under the age of 16.