One of the most important jobs as a parent is to keep your child safe when riding in a vehicle. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury and death for all children. Many of these injuries can be prevented with child safety seats, or child car seats. Buckling children in the appropriate car seat reduces the risk of serious injuries. The seats function by absorbing and safely distributing the impact from a vehicle crash over the child’s body while holding the child in place. They also prevent the child from getting in contact with the vehicle interior components or ejection from the vehicle.
Car Seat Safety Laws
All of the United States, District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands have laws requiring proper child safety seats. Since each state has its own safety laws regarding the child’s height, weight, and age, it is important to know the specific laws that apply to the state that you live in.
In many states, child car seat laws are primary, which means that police can stop vehicles solely for child safety seat violations. There will be fines issued if you are found violating the law, where the amount will vary by state. First offense fines for noncompliance with a state’s law can range from $10 to $500. Some states also use driver’s license points as an additional penalty for not complying. Read more about each state’s child car seat safety requirements here.
Child Passenger Safety Statistics
- The appropriate usage of car seats reduce the risk of death to infants less than one year old by 71% and to toddlers aged 1-4 years old by 54%.
- Booster seats reduce the risk of fatal injuries by 45% for children aged 4-8 years when compared with seat belt use alone.
- For older children and adults, seat beat use reduces the risk of injury and death by approximately 50%.
- In 2011, over 650 children died and more than 148,000 children were injured in the age range of 0-12 years old. Of the 650 children who died, 33% were not restrained in a car seat.
- While 96% of parents believe that they have installed their child safety seats correctly, it is found that 70-80% of the children are actually improperly restrained.
- Children of all ages are safest when they are properly restrained in the back seat of the car. However, 60% of drivers actually believe it is safe for children ages 12 and under to sit in the front seat in front of a passenger air bag, but in fact, air bags can be very dangerous to children.
Common Child Seat Installation Mistakes
Installing the child car seat correctly is imperative because, if used incorrectly, the car seat’s effectiveness to prevent injuries is reduced. Below are some common mistakes for child car seat installation:
- Not using the proper child safety seat for a child’s current size and age
- Not placing the child car seat in the correct direction (rear facing, forward facing)
- Not securing or tightening the car seat’s harness and crotch straps
- Incorrect installation of the child car seat in relation to the vehicle’s air bags (child is safest when seated in the back seat of vehicle)
- Not making sure the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly across the child when using a booster seat
- Using a defective or broken child seat. Look at the car seat label for the date it was made. Check with the manufacturer to see how long they recommend using the seat.
If you have questions or need help installing your car seat, ask a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST). You can call the National Child Passenger Safety Certified Technicians at 877-366-8154 and they will be able to provide you with a list of CPSTs.
Important Safety Reminders:
- Be a good role model. Make sure you always wear your own seat belt. This will help your child develop a habit of buckling up.
- Make sure that anyone who will be driving your child uses the correct car seat and knows how to buckle in the child correctly.
- Always read and follow your car seat manufacturer’s instructions. Not all car seats are created equal, even if it is the same brand or type of car seat. Each car seat has its own age, weight, and height limitations and it is important to make sure your child is within these limitations.
If you do not have the manufacturer’s instructions, write or call the company. The manufacturer’s address and phone number should be on a label on the seat. Have the model number, name of the seat, and the date of manufacture readily available. Some manufacturers may also list instructions on their websites.
- If you are using a used car seat, make sure it is not too old, does not have any visible cracks on it and is not missing any parts. Do not use car seats that have been in moderate or severe vehicle crash. Some car seat manufacturers recommend replacing the seat after any crash, even a minor one.
- Do not use car seats that have been recalled. You can find out by calling the manufacturer or contacting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236. Make sure your car seat has a label with the model number and date of manufacture so that you can check to see if the seat has been recalled.
Buying a Car Seat
You will need to have a baby car seat readily available even before your baby is born, unless you plan to walk home from the hospital. All 50 states require children to be properly restrained in a car seat, usually until they are at least 7-8 years old. Most states also require children to ride in booster seats until they weigh at least 60 pounds or more, or are at a certain age or height.
With many different types of car seats on the market, some parents might find this overwhelming. You can learn more about the different types of car seats available to see what the appropriate car seat is, based on your child’s age and weight.