Child Car Seat Safety Guidelines
With the wide selection of car seats on the market, how do you know which one to buy, and when to switch from one style to another? And how important are car seats anyway?
Answering the last question first, here are some statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about kids and car accidents:
- Crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old.
- An estimated 8,959 lives were saved by child restraints from 1975 to 2008.
- Lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat occupants (age 5 and older) of passenger cars by 45 percent.
- Child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants (younger than 1 year old) and by 54 percent for toddlers (1 to 4 years old) in passenger cars. For infants and toddlers in light trucks, the corresponding reductions are 58 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
Now that you know why your child should be restrained, here's a quick review of restraint options based on your child based on your child's size and age.
Car Seat Categories
Here are the general guidelines for car seats from the NHTSA.
- Birth to at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds: rear-facing seat installed in the back seat.
- Age 1 and 20 pounds to about age 4 and 40 pounds: forward-facing seat installed in the back seat.
- Age 4 to at least age 8, unless 4'9" tall: booster seat installed in the back seat.
- Safety belts: at age 8 and older or taller than 4 ft. 9in.;. All children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat.
Still not sure about what type is best? Visit the NHTSA Child Safety website for more information.
Safety Starter Tips for Car Seats
Each car seat and vehicle type is different. Be sure to read the instruction manual for your car seat and the owner's manual for your vehicle before your first ride with a new baby.
Not all car seats can be installed securely and snugly in all vehicles. When installed, make sure your car seat doesn't move more than 1" either forward or backwards or side-to-side. A loose fit can be dangerous.
The safest place for your child's car seat is in the back seat of the vehicle. This is the area that is most protected from the impact of a crash.
In the summer, parts of your car can heat up enough to burn. Vinyl and metal can burn to the touch, so try to always cover them with a blanket in the sun. Also remember that metal seatbelt latches can burn small hands.
Safety Seat Inspection Stations
Need help with your booster seat? Want to make sure you're using it correctly?
There are Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians who trained in installing car safety seats properly and work at child safety seat inspection stations around the country.
WHN Tip: Traveling or using a rental car? You can also rent a car seat along with your car - costs will range between $2-10. Ask the rental car company to help you properly install your car seat - they may have trained car seat installers on staff.
WHN Tip: If you're traveling by air, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends using an approved child restraint system (CRS) to ensure your child's safety. The CRS must be government approved and have "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" printed on it. Otherwise, you may be asked to check the CRS as baggage. (Click here for more information.)
Consumer Reports Car Seats
Consumer Reports' Car Seat guide includes details on types, features and brands. Both the site and Consumer Reports are published by Consumers Union (CU), an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.
A site hosted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Child Safety offers general consumer information about car seat safety, lists the state booster seat requirements and also features a child safety seat inspection station locator. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under the U.S. Department of Transportation, sets and enforces safety performance standards for motor vehicles and investigates safety defects. NHTSA also conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety.
Buying a Safer Car for Child Passengers (pdf)
This guide covers general child seat use information, safety features for child passengers and other factors to consider when purchasing a car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under the U.S. Department of Transportation, sets and enforces safety performance standards for motor vehicles and investigates safety defects. NHTSA also conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety.
Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families
An extensive guide to correct seat usage, safety tips and a general guide to car seats listed by manufacturer, size limits and price. The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
SeatCheck is a national campaign to help parents properly secure their children in motor vehicles and offers an inspection locator, information on state child passenger laws and other general safety tips. The site is run by DaimlerChrysler and other supporting partners include NHTSA, Graco and AAA.
Safety12 Winter Driving Tips from Experts