Each year thousands of young children are killed or injured in car crashes. Proper use of car safety seats can reduce traffic fatalities by at least 80%. All 50 states have passed laws that require children to ride in approved child passenger safety seats. Children should be in rear-facing car seats until their second birthday, because it’s 5 times safer than forward-facing.
You cannot protect a child by holding him or her tightly. In a 30-mile-per-hour crash, the child can be crushed between your body and the dashboard, or ripped from your arms and possibly thrown from the car. Car safety seats also help to control a child's misbehavior, prevent motion sickness, and reduce the number of accidents caused by a child distracting the driver.
Before you buy a car safety seat, look at several different models. Make sure that the car seat will fit in your car and that your seat belts will work with the seat. To be sure that your seat fits properly in your car, contact a children's hospital or local fire department. Many of them can help you install car safety seats correctly.
Remember that with each transition, there is a loss of some safety – so use the restraint to the highest weight and height limits allowed. There are several types of car safety seats:
Most of these seats come with a detachable base that you attach to the seat of the car. This allows you to easily snap the car seat in and out of the car without reinstalling the car seat each time. If the base does not attach tightly to your car, apply pressure to the infant seat while tightening the seatbelt. Most children outgrow their infant seat by their first birthday. The top of your baby's head must be at least one inch from the top of the safety seat to protect your infant in a crash.
Keep car seat instructions in a safe spot, such as taped to the back of the seat. Send in the product registration to make sure you are notified of any safety recalls. Check the manufacturer website for updated instructions and videos showing how to install the car seat correctly.
Since 2002, most new vehicles and car safety seats have a system called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). This system may be an easier way to attach safety seats. It lets you attach the car seat without using a seat belt. However, you will need to continue attaching the car safety seat with a seat belt unless your vehicle has the LATCH system. Caution: never use both the vehicle seat belt and the LATCH system at the same time. Check with your car seat and car manufacturer, as lower anchors have weight limits.
Tether straps are found on forward-facing car seats. A tether strap hooks the top of a car safety seat to a permanent anchor in the car to protect your child from whiplash. Tethers reduce the amount of forward movement of the car seat in a crash. All cars made after September 2000 are required to have tether anchors. Cars made since 1989 can be retro-fitted with tether straps. Most anchors are on the rear window ledge, back of the seat, floor, or ceiling of the car. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for details. Check with your car seat and car manufacturer, as all tethers have weight limits.
All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. It is not as safe for children to ride in the front seat of a car.
Air bags are standard equipment in most new cars. They are meant for adults, and have saved many lives. However, they can be very dangerous to infants and children. They have caused death from brain injury. If your car has air bags, take the following precautions:
If you have more questions about installing your car safety seat, a list of inspection stations where you can go for help is available in both English and Spanish at http://www.seatcheck.org or toll-free at 866-732-8243.
Keep your child in a booster seat as long as possible. Your child could be ready for a regular seat belt anywhere between 9 and 12 years old depending on height and weight. Your child should be about 4' 9" tall and at least 60 to 80 pounds to properly fit an adult seat belt. When your child is ready for a regular seat belt, it should cross your child's chest, not the neck or throat. Never put the shoulder belt under both arms or behind the back.
In summary, your child is ready to ride in a car using the lap and shoulder belt when:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) publishes a list of infant/child safety seats that have met the Federal Motor Vehicle Standards. The list is updated yearly. To visit the AAP website:
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Each state has its own seat belt laws and safety standards. Although all states require that children are buckled in, not all states require that children travel in the safest way possible. Using a car safety seat correctly is very important. Follow the safety seat instructions and make sure you are keeping your child as safe as possible.
If used consistently and properly, your child's car seat can be a lifesaver. Your attitude toward safety belts and car seats is important. If you treat buckling up as a necessary, automatic routine, your child will follow your lead and also accept car seats and seat belts. It’s never too early to teach your child about respecting the rules of the road.
To keep your child safe and happy, follow these guidelines adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics: