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Car Seat Safety Guidelines for Every Age

Car Seat Safety Guidelines for Every Age

Infant in car seat

As a parent, the hustle and bustle of life increases exponentially with kids. Running errands now requires an extra passenger or two, and as your children get older, driving them to and from school, music lessons, dance class and team practices means you will be spending a lot of time in the car. Keeping your child safe while riding in a vehicle is one of the most important responsibilities you have as a parent.

Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death in children, but using a car seat or booster seat greatly decreases the risk of both death and injury for child passengers. Using the correct restraint in a car reduces an infant’s risk of fatal injury by 71 percent and a toddler’s risk by 54 percent. 

Unfortunately, nearly 80 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly. There are a few simple things to remember when choosing and using a car seat for your child.

  • As children grow, the way they sit in your car will change. Make sure you use a car seat that fits your child’s current size and age.
  • Not all car seats fit in all vehicles. Test the car seat you plan to buy to make sure it fits well with your vehicle.
  • Buy a car seat that you can install and use correctly every time. 

Rear-Facing Seats 

For infants, the best possible protection will be in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children remain rear facing as long as possible until they have reached the maximum height and weight limits of the car seat or after age 2.

Children are five times safer riding rear facing into the second year of life, and 75 percent less likely to sustain a serious injury when rear facing. By facing the rear of the vehicle, crash forces spread across the body of the child, reducing the risk of neck and spinal injury. Some infants will reach the weight or height limit of their infant seat but are still not ready to face forward in the vehicle. In this situation, the child should use a convertible car seat designed to hold children to higher height and weight limits when rear facing. More rear-facing convertible seats are being made to accommodate higher weight and height limits. 

Forward-Facing Seats 

When children outgrow their rear-facing car seat, they should be restrained in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat. A forward-facing car seat has a harness and tether that limit your child’s forward movement during a crash. Increasing numbers of forward-facing car seats have higher harness weight limits, some up to 65 pounds. It is important to choose a car seat that will accommodate your growing child by paying attention to the weight and height limits. Keep your child in the forward-facing car seat with the harness until they reach the maximum weight or height of that car seat. The 5-point harness in such seats offers more points of protection than a seatbelt. 

Booster Seats 

When children outgrow their forward-facing car seats at a minimum of age 4 and 40 pounds, they should be restrained in a booster seat. Booster seats are for children between 40 and 100 pounds and under 4’9” tall. In Utah, children under age 8 are required by law to be in a child-safety seat or a booster seat. Booster seats are designed for use with a lap and shoulder belt combination. The No. 1 cause of death for children in Utah between the ages of 4 and 9 is motor vehicle crashes. This is most likely because these children are not using a booster seat and the lap portion of the seatbelt rides up in the stomach, causing internal organ damage in a car accident. The booster seat helps lift the child up so the seatbelt fits correctly on the strong points of the body such as the shoulder, collar bone and hips. 

When children outgrow their booster seats by reaching 4’9” tall, usually between the ages of 8 and 12, they should use a safety belt in the back seat. Older children are ready to use a vehicle safety belt when their knees bend comfortably over the vehicle seat, the lap belt stays low and snug across the hips, and the shoulder belt lies on the shoulder/collar bone and does not cross the face or in the front of the neck. If the child can sit this way for the entire trip, they are ready for the seat belt. Never allow a child to put the shoulder belts behind their back or under their arm. All children 12 and under should be restrained in the back seat to provide the best protection. 

Free Car Seat Checks by a Certified Passenger Safety Technician

Free car seat checks are available at Primary Children’s Hospital and McKay-Dee Hospital. Primary Children's Hospital is now offering remote car seat checks so you don’t have to drive to the hospital to ensure your car seat is installed correctly. Call Primary Children's at 801-662-6583 or McKay-Dee Hospital at 801-387-8700 to schedule an appointment.

More information at: www.nhtsa.gov | UtahSafetyCouncil.org

2016 Car-SeatS-Booster-Seats-HOTDL-opt V1 pdf