We all want to keep our children safe and secure and help them live to their full potential. Knowing how to prevent leading causes of child injury, like road traffic injuries, is a step toward this goal.
Every hour, nearly 150 children between ages 0 and 19 are treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained in motor vehicle crashes. More children ages 5 to 19 die from crash-related injuries than from any other type of injury.
Thankfully, parents can play a key role in protecting the children they love from road traffic injuries.
Ways to keep your child safe in the car
One of the best protective measures you can take is buckling children in car seats, booster seats, and seat belts that are appropriate for their age, height, and weight.
Birth up to age 2
Rear-facing car seat. For the best possible protection, infants and children should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until age 2 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of their seat. In a crash, the rear-facing car seat protects your child’s head, neck, and spine. Airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat, so never place a rear-facing car seat in front of an air bag.
When your child outgrows the infant car seat, move him or her to a convertible, 3-in-1 or an All-in-One car seat, used rear-facing. These seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing longer.
If a baby under 1 year old grows too tall or too heavy for an infant-only car seat, the NHTSA recommends moving the baby to a car seat with higher rear-facing size limits.
Age 2 up to at least age 5
Forward-facing car seat. A forward-facing car seat has a harness and uses a top tether to limit your child’s forward movement during a crash.
When children outgrow their rear-facing seat, they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat, in the back seat, until at least age 5, or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of their seat. Check the seat’s owner’s manual and/or labels on the seat for weight and height limits.
Some younger children may outgrow the weight or height limit of the forward-facing car seat with a harness, but may not be ready to stay seated properly in a booster seat using the lap and shoulder belt. If this is the case, look for a car seat with a higher size limits.
Age 5 up until seat belts fit properly
Booster seat. Once children outgrow their forward-facing seat, they should be buckled in a belt positioning booster seats until seat belts fit properly.
A booster seat raises and positions your child so that the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt fit properly, and keeps the lap belt from causing injury to the child’s abdomen, keeping the shoulder belt in place to give the child upper body protection. In the event of a crash, an adult seat belt that does not fit a child properly can actually cause injury rather than prevent it, because it doesn’t fit over the strong parts of the child’s body. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). Remember to keep children properly buckled in the back seat for the best possible protection.
The NHTSA recommends that you use a high-back booster if your vehicle has a low seat back. A low seat back does not offer any support for your child’s head either by the vehicle seat back or the head rest. However, if your vehicle seat or head rest do provide support for your child’s head, you may use a backless booster seat.
Don’t rush to move your child to a booster seat too early. Continue to use your forward-facing car seat with a harness and top tether in the back seat for as long as possible. The harness and top tether provides upper torso, head, and neck protection. Always read seat manufacturer instructions for size limits.
Once seat belts fit properly
When is a child ready for the adult seat belt? The decision point for transitioning your child out of a booster seat and into a seat belt usually comes when the child is between 8 to 12 years old: Keep your children in booster seats until they outgrow the size limits of the booster seats or are big enough to fit properly in seat belts.
For a child to properly fit a seat belt, your child must:
- Be tall enough to sit without slouching
- Be able to keep his or her back against the vehicle seat
- Be able to keep his or her knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat
- Be able to keep his or her feet flat on the floor
Additionally, keep your child safe in the car with these tips:
- The lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach
- The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face
- Never let a child put the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the backs, because it could cause severe injuries in a crash
- Keep your child in the back seat because it is safer there
All children aged 12 and under should be properly buckled in the back seat. Buckle children in the middle of the back seat when possible, because it is the safest spot in the vehicle. Always check belt fit on the child in every vehicle. A booster seat may be needed in some vehicles and not in others. If the seat belt does not fit properly the child should continue to use a booster seat.