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. The newest recommendation (2009) is that children use rear-facing car seats until their second birthday, because it’s 5 times safer than forward-facing.
A parent cannot protect a child by holding him or her tightly. In a 30-mile-per-hour crash, the child will either be crushed between the parent's body and the dashboard or ripped from the parent's 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. 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:
Some of these seats come with a detachable base. You attach the base 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.
Keep car seat instructions in a safe spot, such as taped to the back of the seat. Send product information to the manufacturer to make sure you are notified of any safety recalls. Write to the manufacturer if you need a new instruction manual.
Starting in 2002, most new vehicles and car safety seats will have a new system called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). This system may be an easier way to attach safety seats. It allows you to 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 all the lower anchors have a weight limit which is commonly 48 pounds.
Tether straps are found on most new forward-facing car seats. A tether strap hooks the top of a car safety seat to a permanent anchor in the car to provide extra protection. Tethers reduce the amount of forward movement of the car seat in a crash. Check your car to see if it has an anchor. Cars made since 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. There are tether kits available for older car seats. Check with your car seat and car manufacturer, as all tethers have a weight limit which is commonly 48 pounds.
Whenever possible and at any age, put the safety seat in the back seat of the car, which is much safer than the front seat.
Air bags are standard equipment in most new cars. They have saved many lives. However, they are very hazardous 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-SEATCHECK (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, use a lap belt low across the thighs. If your child is using a shoulder 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 get this list, write to the AAP or visit their Web site:
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Division of Public Education
PO Box 927
Elk Grove Village, Illinois 60007
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. To keep your child safe and happy, follow these guidelines adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics: