Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in children in the U.S, and result in injury to over 120,000 children each year. Proper use of car seats can decrease the risk of death and injury by as much as 70% when safety seats are used correctly.
Car Seat Safety
Nearly half of all car seats are used or installed correctly, which puts children in danger of injury or death. Use of car seats and safety restraints can reduce the risks children face by 50 to 70% when employed properly. In addition, child restraint laws are present in every state and include the use of safety seats for infants and younger children, as well as requirements for older children.
Keeping children safe should be a priority of parents and caregivers at all times but particularly when traveling by car. In addition, a properly fitted and installed car seat is often more comfortable for children and will result in a more pleasant trip.
Car Seat Safety Statistics:
- In children under 12 years of age, motor vehicle crashes accounted for 663 deaths in 2015 and 121,350 injuries in 2014
- An estimated 618,000 children under 14 ride in an automobile without a safety seat or restraint system at least some of the time each year.
- Properly used, car safety seats can reduce the chance for death by 70% in infants under 1 year, and 54% in toddlers aged 1 to 4 years.
- Booster seat use can reduce the chance for serious injury by 45% in children aged 4 to 8 years.
- Seat belt use reduces the chance for death by up to 50% in older children and adults.
- An estimated 59% of car seats and 20% of booster seats are installed or used improperly
- About 40% of the children riding with adults who are not using their seat belt are also unrestrained.
- Restraining children in rear seats rather than front seats can reduce the risk of death by 75% for children under 4, and by 50% for children aged 4 to 8
Child deaths by auto accident have been decreasing since the mid-1970s. Improved car seat technology, seat belt laws and a greater understanding of the real need for car restraints have helped to reduce fatalities but car crashes still account for more than 1 in 4 deaths in children.
Car Safety Tips
Adults – Buckle up!
Children also benefit when adults buckle up. Children are less likely to object to safety restraints when adults use seat belts routinely. All passengers in any vehicle should use the appropriate seat belt or safety restraint, every time with every ride, no matter how short the trip is. It should be an automatic habit to buckle up.
Use Safety Restraints
Children should be placed only in an approved safety restraint designed for their age and size. Infant seats for infants, car seats for small children, booster seats for larger children and seat belts for big kids and adults.
Kids in the Back Seat
Children under 12 years of age should sit in the back seat of a passenger car. Safety features in the front seat, such as airbags are designed for adults and can harm or even kill a young child. If a child must be placed in the front seat, airbags may be disabled according to manufacturers instructions.
Small Children in the Middle
The middle of the back seat is the safest place to seat a child. A car seat should be installed in the middle if possible. Behind the driver’s seat is the second-best location for a child or infant seat.
Rear Facing for Infants
Infants should only be placed in rear-facing car seats for at least the first 12 months, preferably longer. Some states require children remain in rear-facing seats for the first two years and may also require the child is a certain weight before aging into a front-facing seat.
Airbags have improved car crash safety for adults but can be deadly for children. Children should not ride in the front seat with an airbag and car seats should not be installed in the front seat, particularly if rear-facing. Check manufacturers instructions for airbag disabling or other safety measures.
Other than failure to use a car seat, the most common problem in car seat safety is improper installation. Newer cars are designed with attachment points that work with current car seats. Manufacturer instructions of both the car and the safety seat should be examined before installing. In many areas, hospitals or law enforcement groups have “car seat safety” checks where parents can have experts ensure that safety seats are installed properly.
In addition to protection in an accident, keeping children restrained in safety seats help to prevent driver distraction. When children are old enough, adults should discuss car safety and help the child understand the dangers of distracted driving.
Car Seat Types
The number one safety tip of car seats is “Use them”. An infant or child should be placed in a safety seat that is appropriate for age and size. Though car seats for infants and toddlers are thought to be the “safest”, once the child is too big, it will not provide adequate protection. A car seat that is too small will also be uncomfortable and a child will resist sitting in it.
Car seat manufacturers recommend both age ranges and height-weight ranges as some children may be larger or smaller than average. Regulations vary from state-to-state but also include both age and size requirements. An appropriate car seat should fit securely and comfortably.
Car safety seat types include:
Rear-facing car seat
Infants and small children are at the greatest risk of injury in an auto accident as the spine is still developing. Car seats for infants and small children are engineered to be installed facing the rear of the car. This design provides protection for the head, neck, and spine and prevents “whiplash” in the event of a collision. Rear-facing car seats should only be installed in the back seat of a car and not in a seat with an active airbag. A properly designed, the rear-facing car seat can protect a child up to the age of two years.
Forward-facing car seat
This is the type of safety seat that most people think of when envisioning car seats. It is larger than a seat designed for smaller children and should only be used after the child outgrows the first seat, around the age of two. A forward-facing car seat may appear to be more convenient, but parents should not be tempted to use them on smaller children as they may not provide adequate protection. Some rear-facing car seats may be convertible to forward-facing but will need to be replaced as the child grows larger.
Depending on the design, forward-facing car seats will be adequate until the child reaches 4-5 years of age or 40 lbs. but may be engineered to be adequate for much larger children, up to 80 lbs. Car seats should strap the child in snugly with a 5-point restraint harness at both shoulders, both hips, and crotch. The harness should be adjusted to fit comfortably and should not be “easy” for the child to manipulate. Older children should be taught to remain in their seats and not allowed to unbuckle themselves.
Forward-facing car seats should be installed in the rear seat, according to both car and seat manufacturer instructions.
Booster seats are a slimmed-down version of safety seats which should be used until a child is large enough for seat belts to fit properly. A booster seat provides extra height and may work along with the seat belt of the car or may use a harness-restraint system. They are designed for children who are too large for a forward-facing car seat but too small for the car’s seat belt to provide adequate protection.
Booster seats are generally appropriate for a child who is 5 to 10 years of age, depending on height and weight. Many states have age and/or height-weight restrictions which dictate the use of a booster seat. In addition, children who sit in booster seats are often more comfortable and will remain in the car seat more easily without complaint.
Booster seats should be installed in rear seats until the child is large enough for seat belts to provide adequate protection.
Children should not be allowed to ride in a car without a car or booster seat until they are tall enough that the seat belt fits appropriately. The shoulder belt should not cross the face or neck and the lap belt should rest snugly across the thighs, not the stomach. Most children will not be large enough to use the seat belts without additional measures until around the age of eight or older, depending on size.
The back seat is still the safest place in an automobile, particularly for children. Children should continue to ride in the rear seat until age 12 as air bags can still pose a threat of injury or even death in the event of an accident. Once allowed to sit in the front seat, older children should be prohibited from activities that distract the driver such as manipulation of mirrors, radio, air conditioner or window controls.
The best way to ensure that children buckle up is to set a good example. Everyone who rides in a motor vehicle should wear a seat belt and children should be educated on seat belt safety and the dangers of distracted driving.
Using a car seat
Safety seats do not work if they are not used properly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control have said that nearly half of all car seats are used incorrectly.
Proper car seat use includes:
Use only approved seats
Car Seats and Booster Seats, Department of Transportation – NHSTA (2018)
Car Seat Laws by State, Safe 4 Kids (2018)
Child Passenger Safety, Centers for Disease Control (9/2017)
Statistics, Kids and Cars (12/2017)
This article originally appeared in the Consumer Safety Guide.
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