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Child Car Safety

StreetWise Parents' Guide

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Child Car Safety

Did you know that traffic crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury for children under age 14? Traffic crashes are also the leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14. Failure to restrain a child properly using a car seat, booster seat or seat belts as appropriate for the child's age and size is a major contributing factor to these injuries and deaths.

Providing proper car seats and restraints for child passengers is the most important thing parents can do to prevent injury and save lives. According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, studies show that car seats, installed and used properly, can reduce the risk of death by up to 71% and the risk of hospitalization up to 69%.

Basic Tips for Proper Use of Child Safety Seats

The following tips follow the recommendations of leading child safety authorities including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Safe Kids Campaign.

  • Make sure all children 12 and under ride in the back seat. The rear seat is safest for children of all ages.

  • Always use the appropriate car seat or booster seat for the age and size of the child passenger. Insist, even if you are just making a short trip in the neighborhood or if a child asserts he or she is "too old" for a safety seat.

    • Infants from birth up to 20 pounds should ride in a rear-facing safety seat properly installed in the back seat. Even a newborn should ride home from the hospital in a child safety seat.

    • Children who are over a year old and weigh from 20 to 40 pounds should ride in the back seat in a forward-facing seat with full harness.

    • Children who weigh from 40 to 80 pounds should ride in the back seat using a booster seat that positions the adult lap and shoulder belts properly to protect the child safely. In addition, children should continue to use booster seats until they can sit comfortably with their backs against the car's seat back and their feet on the floor; in most cars this means they need to be about 4'9" tall.

  • Be sure you understand how to install the safety seat correctly and to buckle the child into it correctly. A correctly installed safety seat always fits tightly against the vehicle's seat and should not move side to side or front to back. Improper installation can contribute to injury rather than protect the child passenger.

    • Read the car seat or booster seat instruction manual carefully.

    • Read the child safety seat and seat belt installation section in the owner's manual of your vehicle(s).

    • It's also a good idea to have a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician check the installation of the child safety seats. Search for a Child Seat Inspection Station in your area at SeatCheck.org.

Selecting the right car safety seat

StreetWise recommends using the thorough information in the following resources to help you select child safety seats that are most appropriate for your children and vehicle(s). These guides are free and available online.

Checking up on car safety seat recalls

Has a car safety seat you own been recalled? NHTSA provides online information, or you can call their Auto Safety Hotline toll-free 888.327.4236.

State laws regarding child passenger safety

Every state has laws designed to ensure child passenger safety, but the requirements for consumers vary widely from state to state. Check out the Child restraint/belt use laws in your state with these tables from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.