Car Seat Safety

Traffic accidents remain the number one cause of death for children between 6 and 14 years of age; more than 400 deaths and 50,000 injuries could be prevented each year if all children under age 4 were properly restrained in moving vehicles. So it’s obvious why correct use of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts is crucial to the safety of our children. Yet a National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) survey found that while 91 percent of American parents use car seats for their children under 4, that number falls to only 67 percent after age 4.

Equally disturbing is that many parents are using safety devices incorrectly, creating only a false sense of safety as improperly used devices are dangerous. And not all safety seats can be installed in all types of vehicles. With numerous models of child safety seats, more than 300 models of passenger vehicles, and the wide range of belt systems available today, correctly installing a child safety seat can be challenging.

Following are guidelines for proper use of a car safety device:Infants

  • From birth to 2 years, or until the child reaches the maximum weight for the car seat, children should be in rear-facing infant or convertible seats.
  • Harness straps should be pulled up to shoulder level or just below.
  • Do not put a child in a side passenger seat equipped with air bags.


  • Children over the maxium weight for their car seat and at least 2 years old can be placed in a forward-facing car seat.
  • The harness straps should be at or above shoulder level.
  • Never use pillows, books or towels to boost a child. They can shift in a moving car.
  • Never allow a toddler to buckle himself in unless you check to be sure the seat is securely fastened.


  • Children between 40 and 80 pounds should be in a booster seat (belt-positioned), using both a lap and a shoulder belt.
  • Be sure that the lap belt fits low and snugly to prevent injury to the abdomen in the event of an accident.
  • Children should be in a booster seat until they are 80 pounds and 57 inches tall – this can mean as old as 8 to 12 years! An adult lap belt used on a smaller child rides up on the abdomen while the shoulder belt can cut across the neck. During a crash, this can cause critical injuries.

Be sure to read the child safety seat’s instruction manual and review all information in the vehicle owner’s manual concerning correct seat installation.

To correctly install a child safety seat, place your knee into the seat and lean forward while tightening the belt.

Once the safety seat is installed, check it by firmly pulling the base of the seat from side to side and forward. The seat should not move more than one inch in any direction.

General Principles

  • Car seats save lives, but only if they are used properly.
  • Never put a child under 12 years old in the front seat.
  • Safety devices should be used even on short trips; 75 percent of accidents occur within 25 miles of home.
  • Never put more than one child in one seat belt or car seat.
  • Always read the instructions and owner’s manual carefully before installing the device.
  • Parents can have child safety seats inspected by a certified technician. To find the name of your state’s child passenger safety coordinator, call 1-888-327-4236.
  • Other resources:
  • Auto Safety Hotline 1-888-327-4236For info on recalls 1-800-424-9393

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