Every day in America, parents and caregivers travel in a vehicle with their children. While many of those children are riding in correctly installed car seats for their ages and sizes, most are not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car seat use can reduce the risk of injury in a crash by 71-82% for children.
This week (September 20-September 26), the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is sponsoring Child Passenger Safety Week. During this week, the NHTSA’s primary goal is to make sure all parents and caregivers are correctly using the right car seats (rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, and booster seats) or seat belts for a child’s age and size.
If you travel in a vehicle with a child, it’s the perfect time to make sure that you are taking all the precautions necessary to keep a child safe in the car. Below are the recommended car seat and seat belt options:
- Rear-facing car seat (birth until ages 2-4): Buckle children in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of their car seat. A rear-facing car seat has a harness, and in a crash, it cradles and moves with your child to reduce the stress to the child’s fragile neck and spinal cord.
- Forward-facing car seat: Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness in the back seat. A forward-facing car seat has a harness and tether that limits your child’s forward movement during a crash.
- Booster Seat: Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat. A booster seat positions the seat belt so that it fits properly over your child’s body.
- Seat Belt: Children do not need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. For a seat belt to work correctly, 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. Remember – your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.
If you have questions about finding the appropriate car seat for your child, visit NHTSA’s Car Seat Finder. It’s an easy-to-use tool where you enter your child’s age, height, and weight, and the system provides car seat types that fit your child.