Car seat safety

February 13, 2012 Hema Nirmal, MD, FAAP

Thousands of Americans are injured in motor vehicle accidents every year. Motor vehicle crashes kill more people ages 5 to 34 than any other cause of death.

We, as parents and caregivers, can reduce the number of fatalities and injuries due to motor vehicle accidents by making sure children are restrained in their seats, car seats, or booster seats appropriately every time they ride in a motor vehicle.

Here are a few recommendations regarding appropriate use of restraints in different age groups:

Rear facing car seats:
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that all children below the age of 2 years, regardless of weight and height, be in a rear facing car seat for the best possible protection.
It is important to make sure the buckled harness straps used to keep your baby properly positioned and secured in the car seat fit snugly. The chest clip needs to be adjusted to the arm pit level. The car’s seat belt or LATCH system should be used to lock the car seat into the car.

Front facing car seats:
Once your child reaches the age of 2 or reaches the maximum weight for rear facing car seat, start to use a forward facing car seat every time your child rides in a car. This needs to the continued until the harness no longer fits (convertible or combo seat) in a back seat. The forward facing car seat should be used until the child is over 40 pounds or the maximum weight limit according to manufacturer instructions.

Booster seats:
To get the best protection from a seat belt, children usually need a booster until they are about 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. Many children will be between 8 and 12 years of age before they meet these height and weight requirement. Use a top tether if both your vehicle and car seat are equipped. Tethers limit the forward motion of your child’s head in a crash.

Seat belts:
All children under age 13 should ride properly restrained in a back seat.

Other safety considerations:

  • It is of utmost importance to have your child’s car seat checked by a certified child passenger safety technician to be sure that it is properly installed. Child car seat inspection station locations can be found at this website.
  • If you don’t know the entire history, never buy a used car seat, especially if it has been involved in a crash.
  • Adults should serve as role models by wearing seat belts at all times and making sure that all occupants wear seat belts correctly. It is always important never to leave children unattended in a vehicle.
  • You should teach your children to buckle up every time no matter whose vehicle they ride in.
  • Parents should make sure that all drivers who transport their children use a car seat, booster or appropriate child restraint when he/she is in their vehicle.


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