Car Child Seat Safety

One of the most important tasks when taking care of children is to make sure they are safe when you are behind the wheel. Take the time to learn what type of seat your child requires and how to properly install it.

Child Safety Seat Facts and Statistics

The number of children under the age of 13 sustaining fatal injuries in automobile crashes has declined since 1975, but it is still a major cause of death. It accounts for 1 out of every 4 unintentional injury deaths according to the data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, knowing how to properly restrain children in a vehicle can reduce these numbers significantly. A study by NHTSA found that there is a 72.6 percent combined rate of misuse of car seats and booster seats, including: improper recline, loose car seat installation, and improper lap belt position. These kinds of misuses of car seats can reduce the protection of the seat in the event of the crash and lead to injury or death. It is important to know what kind of car seats are available on the market, which one is appropriate for the age and size of your child, and how to properly install them and use them. Following some simple guidelines, such as restraining children only in rear seats, can lead to three-quarters less risk for children up to age 3, and half for children ages 4 to 8.

Even though all states have child restraint laws, there are many children who still ride unrestrained, even though they travel almost as much as adults (on average spending 45 to 50 minutes a day in the car). Of the children ages 12 years and younger who died in a car crash in 2014, 34 percent were not buckled up. Using a restraint system is extremely important because it reduces the risk of ejection, distributes the energy load of the crash from soft tissues to bones, and limits the contact of the occupant with the car structures during the crash.

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Types of Car Seats

The cars seats available on the market vary by style, model, accessories, and price. However, all of them have to meet the same safety standards. This means that expensive child safety seats do not necessarily provide more support and protection for your child. When shopping for a car seat, you should choose one that fits your budget. More importantly, the choice of a car seat will depend on the child’s current size and age, as well as the type of vehicle you use.

There are three main types of child safety seats:

  1. Rear-facing seat (designed for infants who weigh up to 22 or 30-35 pounds)
  2. Forward-facing seat (these can be used for children who weigh up to 65-80 pounds)
  3. Booster seat (it will typically fit children who weigh up to 80-100 pounds)

You should let your child use the car seat as long as the child fits the height and weight requirements provided by the manufacturer. The transition from a booster seat into an adult seat belt usually happens when a child is between 8 and 12 years of age, and about 4 feet 9 inches in height. A booster seat helps in positioning the seat belt, so when your child is tall enough for a seat belt without any support, meaning that the belt lies across child’s upper thighs (not the stomach) and across the shoulder and chest (not the neck), it is time to switch from a booster to a seat belt.

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Proper Installation and Usage of Child Seats

Every car seat and vehicle is different, and when installing a car seat you should carefully follow the instructions in both the car seat manual and your vehicle’s owner manual on car seat installation. However, there is still some general advice to follow.

Every car seat is installed using either lower anchors or the LATCH system to secure it in place. LATCH is preferred, but either is acceptable. In some cases, it may be more practical to use one or the other. The car seat must be secured tightly in the vehicle. When you pull the belt, it should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch.

If you are installing a rear-facing seat, make sure that it is installed at the correct recline angle (most car seats have built in angle indicators and adjustors). If you need any help installing a car seat, many local fire and police stations offer free seat-checks, or you can find your closest trained inspector on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.

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Child Seat Tips

Some general tips for using a child seat:

  • Never place a child seat (especially a rear-facing car seat) in front of an air bag.
  • The safest spot in the vehicle is the middle of the back seat. Whenever it is possible, install a child safety seat there. If not, choose one of the sides.
  • Take extreme caution if you are buying or accepting a used seat. Never use a seat if is more than 6 years old or if it was in a crash. Do not use seats that have missing parts, or ones with a missing manufacturing date or model number. Contact the manufacturer for recommendations on how long the seat can be used and to find out if it has ever been recalled.
  • Choose a child safety seat that is easy to use. This makes it more likely that you will be able to use it every time you travel.

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Child Passenger Laws

All U.S. states and territories require child safety seats for infants and children of up until a certain age, weight, and height. Many states require all children to ride in the rear seat whenever possible, and most have requirements for using an adult safety belt. First offence fines for not respecting these laws vary from $10 to $500. You should refer to the Governors Highway Safety Association website for state-specific laws.

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Child Passenger Safety Tips

Whenever you have children in the car make sure that:

  • They are buckled in a car seat appropriate for their age no matter how short of a trip you are taking.
  • Restraints and harnesses are tight enough (bulky clothing can leave the straps too loose to restrain your child, so it is better to dress your child in thinner layers and put extra layers over after securing the child in the seat).
  • You set a good example to your children by always using a seat belt yourself.

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Transporting Children with Special Needs

Due to health problems, some children cannot ride in regular car seats that are commonly found in the stores. If your child has special health care needs, talk to your pediatrician about what transportation option would be the best for your child.

Car seats for children with special needs are often expensive. Check to see if there are any car seat loan programs in your area, or if your insurance can help cover the cost. Never try to modify the seat yourself. Do not use one that has been altered if it has not been crash tested. Depending on your child’s needs, try to limit the amount of car travel, and make frequent stops if you are driving long distances. Furthermore, whenever possible, there should be someone accompanying you and monitoring the child in the rear of the vehicle.

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