Car crashes are the leading cause of death in children 1 to 13 years old, but many of those deaths are preventable. One way to help reduce the risk is to properly restrain children every time you drive.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that three out of four parents do not properly use child restraints. Despite those estimates, research also shows that child seat use does save lives. Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats finds that they reduce fatal injury in passenger cars by up to 71 percent for infants under 1 year old and 59 percent for children 1 to 4 years old.
Sept. 15 to 21 is National Child Passenger Safety Week, an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of using and installing child safety seats correctly. The NHTSA estimates that restraint use saved the lives of 263 children under the age of 5 in passenger vehicles in 2011.
The first step is to choose the correct seat for your child’s age and size. By law, infants must ride in a rear-facing seat until at least 1 year old and 20 pounds. But research shows that children are better protected the longer they can remain facing rear. The current recommendation by Consumer Reports and other safety organizations is to keep children rear-facing up to 2 years old. This recommendation is echoed by child seat manufactures in the many seat designs on the market build to keep children facing rear longer.
Once a child nears the 2-year-old mark and outgrows the rear-facing capability of their seat, she can be moved to a forward-facing seat. A child should be in a forward-facing seat with a harness until he reaches the height or weight limits of the seat typically, from 40 to 65 pounds and 50 inches.
Next children should ride in a booster seat until the vehicle safety belts fit properly, which means the lap belt lies across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt lies midway across the shoulder and chest (not against the child’s neck or off of the shoulder on her arm), the child comfortably sits against the seat back with her knees bend at the seat edge, and last but not least, she can remain like this for the entire trip. That usually is between 8 and 12 years old, when the child is abou 4 feet, 9 inches tall, but it varies for each child. All children under age 13 should ride in the back seat.
If you need help to figure out which type of seat to buy, Consumer Reports offers resources that can help you choose the right model, including our buying advice, Ratings, and our price & shop service.
After choosing the right seat, the last step is proper installation. One way to ensure that your seat is installed correctly is to have your car seat inspected by certified technicians. To find an inspection station near you, look to seatcheck.org or on the NHTSA website. Saturday Sept. 21 is also National Seat Check Saturday, when inspection events will be held nationwide. It is a great opportunity to have your car seats checked to ensure they are properly installed.
Another Great resource is NHTSA’s new Parent Central website, and we couldn’t sum it up better than they already have:
“Whether you’re buying their first car seats or handing your teen their first sets of car keys. Should you let your kids walk to school? What about bikes or the big yellow school bus? How safe is my car? We can help you with all these answers and many more.”
For more on child safety, see these related reports.
Car seat Ratings and buying advice
Guide to kids and car safety
See our videos on how to install infant seats, convertible seats, and boosters.