Child Safety Seats Save Lives

Children are fragile cargo. In America, more children die in vehicle crashes than childhood disease or other accidents. Related injuries are the leading case of epilepsy and paraplegia in children. To protect children, all 50 states and the District of Columbia enforce the mandatory use of child safety seats.

Choosing and Using a Child Safety Seat

It is important to choose the right seat for your child's age and size and your vehicle. It is also important to install it correctly and maintain it.

Frequently check the condition of the seat. Make sure straps are not frayed or discolored, webbing is free of wear, buckles operate properly, the seat is free of cracks, bends and loose bolts and all necessary parts are included.

A secondhand child safety seat is potentially dangerous: it might not be crashworthy, it may have been recalled, or it could be missing key components.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, eight out of every ten child safety seats are not used correctly. The child safety seat must be secured as tightly as possible with the vehicle's safety belt or lower anchor and tethers for children (LATCH) system to ensure protection in a crash or sudden stop.

Thread and anchor all harness straps to the child safety seat. Adjust the retainer clip so that it is at armpit level of the child's body. The harness straps should be flat or untwisted and adjusted snugly so you cannot pinch any slack.

To ensure proper fit, the lap belt should be fitted low and snugly across the child's hips – not across the stomach. The shoulder belt should not come across the child's face or the front of their neck. Never place the shoulder belt under the child's arm or behind their back.

Here are 10 more important pointers to help you protect young passengers:

1. There is no safe substitute for the right child safety seat.

Many parents believe they protect young children by holding them in their lap. Safety experts call this the "child crusher" position because it increases the probability and severity of injuries to a child in a crash.

2. Infant-only are specifically designed to protect babies.

Infant-only seats are designed for babies who are roughly 9 to 12 months old, weighing up to 22 pounds. Install the infant seat facing the rear of the vehicle and secure it with the vehicle safety belt or lower anchor and tethers for children (LATCH) system. In positioning the infant in the set, make sure the child's head is no closer than one inch from the top of the seat back.

3. Household baby carriers and beds are no substitute for child safety seats.

Carriers will not protect the child during a sudden stop, swerve, or crash. There is currently only one infant-only seat on the market that converts to a safe car bed.

4. Convertible seats are suitable for toddlers.

Convertible toddler seats can be used in a rear-facing position for infants up to 30 or 35 pounds or in the forward-facing position for toddlers up to 40 (about 4 years of age).

5. Integrated child safety seats protect older children.

Integrated seats are designed for the forward-facing child who is at least a year old and 20 pounds.

6. Belt positioning boosters provide a transition from a convertible seat to the adult safety belt.

Booster seats offer the best upper body protection for children weighing from about 40 up to 80 pounds. Use booster seats until the child fits the lap and shoulder safety belt.

7. Vehicle manufacturers are required to phase-in tether anchors in all new vehicles.

If your car was manufactured before September 1999, contact your dealer to have a tether anchor installed at little or no cost. Check your vehicle owner's manual for tether anchor locations.

8. Rear-facing child seats must be installed in the back seat.

Never install a rear-facing child safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with activated air bags.

9. The vehicle owner's manual will indicate if you will need "extras."

You may need a locking clip that secures the vehicle safety belt around the child safety seat or an accessory buckle for fitting child seats in particular seating positions.

10. Children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat.

Want More Information?

  • Your AAA club can provide additional information about child safety seats and proper installation.
  • Additional information is available from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (www.aaafoundation.org).
  • The National Child Passenger Safety Board (www.cpsboard.org) is a national information clearinghouse.
  • The government resource for all traffic safety information is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.dot.gov).
  • You can also call SafetyBeltSafe, USA (1-800-745-SAFE).