This week is Child Passenger Safety Week and it is a great time to review the important recommendations for ensuring that your child remains safe in the event of an automobile accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. Choosing the appropriate car seat for your child and ensuring that it is installed correctly can go a long way towards keeping your child safe if they are in an accident.
There are four types of car seats that your child will progress through as they grow. These car seats are not “one size fits all” and which seat you should be using for your child depends on their age, height and weight. The NHTSA provides an online tool that you can use to determine the appropriate seat for your child. It is also important to note that not all car seats fit securely in all cars and you should test the seat you plan to buy in your vehicle to make sure that it fits correctly. More information about each of the following types of car seats can be found on the NHTSA website.
Rear-Facing Car Seat – When you first bring your baby home from the hospital, you will be using a rear-facing car seat. This car seat will cradle your baby safely while protecting their neck and spinal cord with a harness. In many cases, these types of car seats will be “convertible” seats that will allow a child to remain in the rear-facing position longer and can also be turned to forward-facing when your child is ready.
Forward-Facing Car Seat – When your child reaches the appropriate age and size, they can be safely moved into the forward-facing position. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that children remain in the rear-facing position until the age of two.) Forward-facing car seats should include a harness to continue to protect your child’s neck and spinal cord as well as a tether to ensure that the seat will remain securely in place in the event of an accident. Children should remain in forward-facing car seats with harnesses for as long as possible according to the height and weight limit of the specific car seat. Many of these seats will accommodate children up to as much as 65 pounds. (Ages will vary, but some children will not reach the height and weight limits until they are ten years old.)
Booster Seat – When your child has reached the height and weight limit for the forward-facing car seat, they will likely still be too small to be safely secured by a seat belt alone and will need a booster seat. A booster seat will position your child so that the seat belt fits properly over the stronger parts of their body. Your child will not be safely restrained by a seat belt until it is able to lie across their upper thighs while being snug across their shoulder and chest. A seat belt resting under a child’s arm, on their stomach area or across their neck or face will do more harm than good in the event of an accident.
The evolution of child passenger safety has come a long way over the years and parents now have many tools available to ensure the best possible outcome for their child if they are ever in an automobile accident. Do your research and be informed before you buy your child’s car seat. Pay attention to the height and weight guidelines before you move them out of their current seat. Seek out local resources* available to ensure that your child’s car seat is properly installed. And make sure that your child is safely secured in every vehicle they ride in. You will never regret taking the extra time to keep your child safe.
*If you live in the State of Minnesota, visit The Minnesota Department of Public Safety website to find places near you that can inspect the installation of your car seat.