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Car Seat Safety: A How-To Guide

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for all children.  Child safety seats, or car seats, reduce the risk of injury by 71% to 82% and reduce the risk of death by 28% in comparison to children in seat belts alone.   Booster seats reduce the risk of nonfatal injuries by 45% among 4 to 8 year olds.

All vehicle occupants need to be properly restrained by seat belts or child safety seats to prevent injury in case of a sudden stop, swerve or crash.  Seat belts and car seats contact the strongest parts of the body, spread crash forces over a wide area, help the body slow down and protect the brain and spinal cord.

Did you know 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly?

Before you install your car seat, be sure to read both the car seat instruction manual and your vehicle owner’s manual. Also consider having an expert check the seat. The service is free and only a step away. To find a certified technician, call (866) SEAT-CHECK or click here.

The best car seat is one that:

1. Fits your child;
2. Fits the vehicle;
3. And you will use correctly every trip!

Research tells us that safety belts and car seats are the most effective devices in preventing serious injuries and deaths in vehicle crashes.  All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that require child seat use; however, numerous gaps and inconsistencies exist. AAA believes that closing loopholes in existing state laws and educating the public about proper car seat and restraint use are essential to preventing child passenger injuries and deaths.

For more than a century, AAA has worked to foster a safe environment for travelers through education, research and advocacy. Since its founding, AAA has been a leader in developing and supporting educational and safety programs for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and children.

For more information on child passenger safety, contact your local AAA office.

 

 

 

The rear-facing position supports a child’s head, neck and spine and helps reduce stress to the neck and spinal cord in a crash. Children should ride in a vehicle’s back seat in rear-facing safety seats from birth until age 2, or until they reach their convertible seat’s upper weight limit, which should be around 35 pounds. Be sure both age and weight requirements are met before a child is moved to a forward-facing seat.

Installation tips

  • Rear-facing seats should be installed in the back seat of your vehicle. Never place a rear-facing seat in front of an active passenger frontal air bag.
  • The center seating position is ideal if it can be used, since it is the farthest from any point of impact.
  • The seat should be installed using either the LATCH system or vehicle safety belt, never both.
    • If using the LATCH system, buckle all unused safety belts to prevent the possibility of strangulation.
    • If using a safety belt, make sure the belt is locked and can hold the seat tightly. You should not be able to move the seat more than one inch in any direction when testing where the belt goes through.
  • Rear-facing safety seats should be installed in the recline mode to protect your baby’s breathing. Be sure to refer to the safety seat manufacturer’s degree recommendation.
  • Harnesses should be at or below your child’s shoulders. The harnesses should be snug and lie flat on your infant’s shoulders, and you should not be able to pinch any slack.
  • The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level, across your infant’s sternum. This protects soft tissue and helps keep the harness straps on your baby.
  • To prevent injury, secure any unused tethers when installing the safety seat.

Do not use any aftermarket accessories, such as mirrors and metal roller shades, and secure loose items such as purses, briefcases, toys and umbrellas, because these items could cause injury in a crash or sudden stop.

 

Children can ride forward-facing in a vehicle’s back seat once they have reached the upper weight (30 to 35 pounds) or height limit of their rear-facing convertible seat, which will typically be around age 2. It is safest to keep your child in a forward-facing seat with a harness until he or she reaches the seat’s maximum height or weight (40 to 65 pounds) limits.

Forward-facing seats include an internal harness system that keeps a child properly restrained and snug straps that limit forward motion. In the event of a crash, the forward-facing position provides for even distribution of physical forces over a child’s body.

Installation tips

  • Forward-facing seats should be installed in the back seat of your vehicle whenever possible.
  • The center seating position is ideal if it can be used, since it is the farthest from any point of impact.
  • The seat should be installed using either the LATCH system or vehicle safety belt, never both. Be sure to buckle unused safety belts to limit risk of strangulation.
    • If using the LATCH system, buckle all unused safety belts to prevent the possibility of strangulation.
    • If using a safety belt, make sure the belt is locked and can hold the seat tightly. You should not be able to move the seat more than one inch in any direction when testing where the belt goes through.
  • Never install anything under or behind the forward-facing safety seat.
  • Harnesses should be at or above your child’s shoulders when riding forward-facing. Check the car seat’s instructions to determine the correct harness slot that should be used.
  • The harnesses should be snug and lie flat on your child’s shoulders, and you should not be able to pinch any slack.
  • The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level, right across the sternum. This protects soft tissue and helps keep the straps on your child.

Do not use any aftermarket accessories, such as mirrors and metal roller shades, and secure loose items such as purses, briefcases, toys and umbrellas, because these items could cause injury in a crash or sudden stop.

 

Children can use a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harnesses, which will be between 40 and 65 pounds. Children at this stage are not yet ready for adult safety belts and should use belt-positioning booster seats until they are at least 4’9″ and between 8 and 12 years old. Safety belts are designed for 165-pound male adults, so it’s no wonder that research shows poorly fitting adult belts can injure children.

Installation tips

  • Belt-positioning booster seats should always be installed in the back seat of your vehicle.
  • Always use a lap/shoulder belt with your booster seat, and never a lap belt alone.
  • Place the booster seat on your vehicle seat.
  • Buckle the lap/shoulder safety belt around your child and the belt-positioning booster seat. Be sure to place the safety belt through the belt guides to help keep it positioned properly on your child.
  • The lap belt should be positioned low and tight across your child’s hips and upper thighs, not across the abdomen.
  • The shoulder belt should cross the chest and shoulder, across the sternum and collarbone.
  • Do not use any aftermarket accessories, such as mirrors and metal roller shades, and secure loose items such as purses, briefcases, toys and umbrellas, because these items could cause injury in a crash or sudden stop.

What types of injuries could occur if the safety belt doesn’t fit properly?

Out-of-position lap belts can cause serious injuries to the liver, spleen or intestines. Additionally, as a child’s upper body jack-knifes over a high-riding lap belt, the spine may pivot and fracture, resulting in paralysis.

When a child can sit with his or her back straight against the vehicle seat back cushion and knees bent over the seat edge without slouching, it is time to switch to an adult safety belt. Safety seat tips

  • The lap belt should fit the child low across the hips and thighs, not across the abdomen.
  • The shoulder belt fits across the collarbone and chest. It should not cut into a child’s abdomen or neck.
  • Children under age 13 should be properly restrained in the back seat.
  • Teenagers should wear lap and shoulder belts in every seating position in a motor vehicle.
  • ALWAYS require safety belt use for all passengers.

Child safety seats can be obtained through a variety of resources.

  • All child safety seats meet the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, so you do not need to purchase the most expensive seat on the market. Many seats can be purchased at a discount through retailers.
  • Federal grant programs provide child safety seats to many states. Check with your local SAFE KIDS coalition or state department of transportation. They can direct you to local programs that may provide a free or reduced-cost seat when you attend an educational class or car seat check.
  • Do not to use a secondhand seat unless ALL of the following statements are true:
    • The seat has never been involved in a moderate to severe crash.
    • The seat has labels with the date of manufacture and model number, so you can check for recalls.
    • The seat has no recalls. (Some recalls can be fixed.)
    • The seat is less than six years old.
    • The seat has all of its parts and they work correctly.
    • The seat has an instruction manual.

Car seats work best when they are installed correctly. An expert can answer your questions and check your car seat to make sure it’s right. It’s free and only and step away. To find an expert near you, you can call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK or click here.