Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Car Safety With Kids in Tow

Ensuring the safety of their children is of the utmost priority for parents. One of the leading causes of injuries to children involve motor vehicle crashes.

The National Center for Statistics and Analysis says nearly 250,000 children are injured every year in car accidents. Many of these injuries can be attributed to improper restraint systems used on children. In order to safeguard passengers, drivers must be aware of how to properly secure young children in the car.

The type of vehicle restraint depends on several factors, including the child's age, weight and height. Although vehicles have safety features unique to each individual vehicle, the safest place a child can ride is in the center of the backseat of the car. Children should not ride in the front seat because an air bag is not designed for the height and weight of a child and can cause serious injury if deployed.

In terms of car seats, here is a general guideline to use. Again, consult the owners' manual of the vehicle and the car seat instruction booklet to ensure proper placement of the car seat.


Infants should ride in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible. Car seat manufacturers are making seats that accommodate heavier weights, meaning an infant may be able to ride rear-facing comfortably and safely well past his or her first birthday.

At a minimum, an infant should remain rear-facing until the age of one AND if the child is under 20 pounds. If the car seat can accommodate the weight and the child is comfortable, leave him or her rear-facing. Otherwise, the seat can be switched to forward-facing if the baby is a year old and 20 pounds or more.

Infant car seats (the snap-and-go type that are part of travel systems) may be outgrown faster than a convertible car seat. Parents may want to consider using a convertible seat instead. Convertible seats transition from infant to toddler.


If a toddler is still comfortable rear-facing, continue to leave the child in that position. Otherwise, a forward-facing car seat with full 5-point harness system should be used.


Booster seats are used for children who have outgrown a forward-facing car seat with harness system. They may have backs or be backless, depending on design. In general, children should use a booster seat until they reach a height where an adult seatbelt will work correctly without the need for the child to be raised up. This may mean a child should use a booster until he or she is between 8 and 12 years old and about 4-foot-9 inches tall.

Proper Installation

Car seats are secured in the car by a LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, system for most newer vehicles made after 2002. Car seats may feature flexible latches on a seatbelt type device or a rigid metal device that snaps onto the LATCH hook. They also may be used with locking seatbelts in older cars.

Because car seat manufacturers and vehicle manufacturers have a myriad of designs for seats, finding a correct fit for a car isn't always easy. Many parents stress out about the installation of car seats. Even with the obsession about proper installation, research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that as many as 80 percent of all car seats are improperly installed and used.

Parents who have difficulty with a car seat should return it and try another. Many police stations will help with installation of car seats and can check fit.

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