Each of the 50 states have laws regarding buckling up a child, however laws regarding car safety seats are up to the discretion of each states and can vary widely. According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, almost half of the states fail when it comes to their laws on safety seats. Their study in February 2001 revealed shocking deficiencies from gaps in coverage to insufficient penalties for violations. There have been improvements since this study, but there is still a long way to go.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a Child Passenger Safety Program that aims to have all children ages 0-16 properly and safely restrained in the correct systems appropriate for their age, weight and height.
However, parents are empowered to take their child's safety in their own hands. We hope through the information contained on this website, you will gain the information you need in order to make an informed and correct decision on how best to protect your child while they are a passenger in a car.
Safety Recommendations above the minimums - Experts recommend that parents use the more stringent recommendations put forward by reputable health and safety organizations. Please see the following websites for their car-seat safety tips:
Car Seat Safety Links, Recommendations and Information
Avoid winter clothing bundling - Bulky clothing can lead to incorrect harness tightening. In an accident, the child can slip right out of the extra padding - and thus out of the seat. Let the car warm up or cool down prior to placing your child in there if possible. If your child is cold, place a blanket over the top of the harness.
Keep your child Rear-Facing as long as possible - Once your child is ready to move from their rear-facing infant seat to 5pt harness integral seat, please do not be tempted to turn them around to forward-facing once they reach the minimum requirements. Many car seats accommodate rear-facing children up to weights of 35 lbs. For more information on this recommended practice, please see our page on extended rear-facing here - Rear-Facing is Safest
Check Your Installation - Please have your car seat installation checked by a trained professional - this is a free service - Certified Child Passenger Safety Contact Locator or call their Hotline 1-866-SEAT-CHECK . You can double check that these people have undergone the necessary training by cross-referencing with this website at the NHTSA
If the safety seat moves in any direction more than one inch, it's too loose. Go to the police or hospital to have a safety seat expert help you tighten it, and recheck the safety seat each time you use it. Source - SaferChild.org
There are two good rules of thumb to tell if your car seat is installed correctly:
To test for firm installation, push the seat toward the front of the car and to both sides. (If you pull the top of an infant seat toward the back of the car, it may pivot toward the vehicle seatback. This is normal.)
If your child can wriggle out of the straps, they aren't tight enough. A snug harness is important for good crash protection, but it should not cause discomfort. NHTSA now requires that child restraint manufacturers include the following description in their instructions:
"A snug strap should not allow any slack. It lies in a relatively straight line without sagging. It does not press on the child’s flesh or push the child’s body into an unnatural position." A practical way to determine if the harness is snug enough is to first adjust it so that it is comfortable, then try to take a "tuck" in the shoulder strap by pinching the webbing. If you can hold onto the tuck, the belt is too loose. (Some older guidelines state that there should only be enough space to insert one finger (some say two) between the harness and the child, but this is not a good measure.) When testing a 5-point harness, pull all of the slack from the lap part up into the shoulder straps before checking for tightness. If the harness does not touch the baby's body even when it is pulled as tight as possible, the problem cannot be solved for this model. Such a situation can occur with small babies in some infant-only restraints and most convertible Child Restraint with shields. Parents who already have such a Child Restraints should replace it (if new) or use a different model until the child is bigger. This is particularly important if the model has a shield. If there is a gap between the crotch strap and the infant's crotch, a rolled diaper or washcloth may be placed in this gap to help prevent slumping.
After adjusting the harness, be sure the strap length is locked in place. Many Child Restraints have levers in front that automatically clamp the webbing, but tug on the straps to be sure. For rear-facing, be sure the lever is not caught in the "up" position against the vehicle seat. Also check that the connector hardware or stitched webbing in the back is not caught somewhere, leaving unexpected slack. Some Child Restraints still use a system where one end is sewn to a metal slide and the other end is free. Before adjusting the harness, the free end is threaded through the metal slide sewn to the other strap end. At this point, it looks like a buckle on a shoe. After adjusting the harness to the correct length, the free end of the strap must be looped back through the metal slide one more time to lock the webbing in place. When properly secured, the metal slide should look like a "C" (for correct), not like an "O" (for open). Source: SaferChild.org Available online; SaferChild.org
Read your car manual and car seat installation instructions carefully - Know what weight limits your car's LATCH system supports - usually between 40-48lbs. Here are some weight limits that have been collated for your quick reference. Do not be tempted to secure your car seat using BOTH the LATCH system and Seat belt. This is an untested scenario and requires further testing before we can recommend this practice. In the meantime, our foundation is pressing car seat manufacturers to test this configuration.
Always register your seat with the manufacturer so that you can be notified of any repairs or recalls. If your seat is secondhand, call the manufacturer (usually a toll-free number) to find out if there's been a repair or recall. (Source - SaferChild.org) Think twice before buying a secondhand car seat – you don’t REALLY know the history of that seat and it may have been in an accident. The contact numbers for USA car and car seat manufacturers have been provided here on this website.
Avoid loose articles in your car - articles which are not secured can instantly become deadly weapons in the event of a crash, taking on the energy of the speed the car was doing at impact. For example, if you were doing 50 mph, that loose cellphone can hit you at 50mph when you have an impact. Not only can the projectiles hit, injure or kill you, they could also strike the seat belt mechanism and undo the seatbelt. We agree with Dr. Sears and ConsumerFriendly - put your groceries in the trunk (even your pocket book).
Use a Five Point Safety Harness as long as possible - Many parents think that once their child reaches 40 lbs in weight, that they need to move into a Booster seat with a car belt restraint. There are many options available to keep your child safely restrained using a 5 point harness. Please carefully read the instructions for the car seat or Booster that you intend to purchase - many are rated for use with the 5 pt harness only to a certain weight, and thereafter you must switch to using the seat belt to restrain your child. Quoting Tom Bologa, President of Britax USA in 2001- Until a child's iliac crests (hip bones) are developed at about the age of 7 to 10 and the child is big enough to avoid the lap belt resting against the soft abdomen, an adult seatbelt provides inadequate protection. Here is a good resource for finding seats beyond the 40lb weight limit, listing the various belt limitations for each model:
When should I consider a Booster Seat? - High-backed Booster seats should only be considered for children about 40-80 lbs. and 4 years and older. The seat raises the child so that the lap and shoulder belt fit properly, and the high back protects the child's head and upper body. There is a maturity issue here that requires addressing - many children play with the shoulder belt, sometimes putting it behind them. You should only consider using a booster in this configuration if you are 100% certain that your child will never do this. (Note: "shield" booster seats aren't approved for children weighing more than 40 pounds -- and for children less than 40 pounds, they pose a risk of ejection in a rollover crash). Several states -- including the District of Columbia and Arkansas -- have made booster seats a requirement. When using a booster, consider locking the switchable retractor on the shoulder-lap belt to ensure movement of the child doesn't introduce slack in the belt. Use the center location if an appropriate belt is available. Source - SafetyBeltSafeUSA
Ultimately, a 5-point harness seat offers the most protection during a collision and in the event of a seatbelt failure/ejection it will cocoon the child and will absorb the blow of hitting the ground, protecting the child's fragile head and neck. Currently the Britax Regent is the largest 5-point harness seat, accommodating a child up to 80 pounds and 53". Our strong recommendation is that you keep your child in a 5-point harness as long as possible.
When should I consider using a Seat Belt only? When children can manage (without slouching) to sit with their feet on the floor of the vehicle, their back straight against the back seat cushion, and knees over the edge of the seat (usually at about 80 pounds and 57" tall), they can use a seat belt. The lap belt should lie across their hips, not their stomach -- and the shoulder belt should fit across the shoulder, not across their neck or throat. They should always use both the lap and shoulder belt. Please examine the 5 Step Test from SafetyBeltSafe USA to ensure you are following safety recommendations. Older children should always use lap and shoulder belts, regardless of where in the car they sit. Source - SafetyBeltSafeUSA
LATCH - Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren - is also known as ISOFIX internationally. It consists of the Lower Anchor points in the car and the Top Tether point, usually on the parcel shelf or on the base of the car seat where it can be anchored to the frame of the car body. This system was a requirement for cars manufactured in the USA beginning in September 2002. However, many cars are capable of being retrofitted with tethers - please contact your car manufacturer for details on your specific make and model. Please note that LATCH has a weight limit of between 40 and 48lbs. For more information on your specific model, contact your vehicle manufacturer. There is a summary listing of LATCH weight limits available here - Safe Ride News
What if my car doesn't come with anchors?
You can retrofit certain vehicles with lower anchors and tether anchors.
Lower anchors: Retrofitting is available for a few Audi and Volkswagen vehicles ONLY.
Audi: Will install a LATCH system (both lower and upper anchors) free of charge for model years 1999 and up in the following vehicles: A4, A6, A8, S8, and model year 2001 and up Allroad Quattro. LATCH retrofit kits are not available for the TT models or the Audi A8L.
Volkswagen: Will install a LATCH system (upper and lower anchors) free of charge for Passat models year 1999-2002.
Tethers: Tether anchors are available for most vehicles manufactured after 1989. Many of these vehicles have the holes pre-drilled in the vehicle, often with the nut in place, so that retrofitting the tether anchor is as simple as ordering the part and screwing in a bolt.
Vehicle manufacturers with a single part number for all tether anchor kits for all of their vehicles (list price included when available--installation may be extra):
Acura: 82410-SE3-C01, Plate Assembly/Anchor plate and mounting hardware, $13 Honda: 82410-SE3-C01, Plate Assembly/Anchor plate and mounting hardware, $13 Infiniti: 88894-89900, (may need 8mm x 1.25 bolt) Lexus: 73709-20010, Tether anchor kit $10 Nissan: 88894-89900, (may need 8mm x 1.25 bolt) Toyota: 73709-12010, Bracket Sub-Assembly, Tether Anchor $12
Keep children 12 years and younger in the back seat - if your older child MUST ride in the front seat, please move the seat as far back as possible to minimize the risk.
Restraints for Special Needs Children - There are other options available for special needs children. See the Medem site for information (do a search under "special needs.") or a href="ttp://www.snugseat.com/" target="_blank">Snugseath
No child should ride in the front seat which is equipped with passenger-side airbags - it sounds counter-intuitive, but children's bodies are not able to withstand the forces exerted on them by a deploying air-bag. Source - SaferChild.org
Never carry an infant or child in your arms if the vehicle is moving -- not even if the baby is crying, not even if you're just going down the block. Even a fender-bender will almost certainly injure -- and possibly kill -- an unrestrained child. Source - SaferChild.org
Never leave your baby or toddler to sleep in the car seat or carrier. Children have died or been injured by being left to sleep in a car seat or carrier after the parents arrived at their destination. The victims either fell out, became tangled in the straps, or choked to death when their head fell forward and closed off their airway. Do not succumb to the temptation to leave your sleeping baby in the car seat -- even if you do bring the car seat into the house. Instead, put the baby to bed in a proper bassinet or crib -- even if it means having to rock the baby to sleep again. Source - SaferChild.org
Never allow a child to ride in the bed of a truck or the cargo area of a SUV, unless it's been equipped with seat belts.Source - SaferChild.org
Never allow a child to place a seat belt behind his back or under his arm. - when one places the shoulder belt under the arm, it is likely to place inordinate pressure on the ribs which are not designed to withstand those forces and may break and injure internal organs.
Placing the belt behind the back means that the belt doesn't perform correctly either. However, it doesn't even perform like a lap-only belt because the design will lead to more likelihood that the lap portion will be pulled up into the abdomen. The exemplar case in the publication "Boosters Are For Big Kids", is a 9 year old boy who was in a 20 mph crash. Like his 2 siblings, 1 of whom was driving, he had no external bruising and was discharged by a non-pediatrician whom he was required to see before going to a specialist! He had a perforated stomach which was fortunately repaired. Source - SaferChild.org
How to handle resistance from your child - Your child will go through phases of squawking over being in a car seat. Don't cave in. Explain to your child that your desire is to keep him from going headfirst through the windshield and getting hurt. Make it an inviolable rule: The vehicle doesn't move until everyone's buckled in, and if someone wriggles out, the vehicle stops. You will have less resistance if you always buckle yourself in, too. If you think it will help, please show them Kyle's video - many parents have done this and have reported that they child either asked to be put back in their 5 point harness seat, or have ceased complaining about being in their car seat.
Remember - you are the boss. Make the rule and then make it stick: Nobody goes anywhere until everyone's buckled in. Having said that, here are some suggestions for preventing the squawking (Source - SaferChild.org):
Don't give in and let your children ride without being buckled in -- not even one time, not even for a block. If your children think the rule is negotiable, they will try to negotiate.
Buckle everyone up, including yourself. Don't let your parents, grandparents, friends, or big brother get away with not buckling up, either. Your children should see that it's just the way things are.
Don't get angry. This always worked for us: "Honey, we don't have to go to the playground today. I don't mind. It's your choice. Either you sit quietly while I buckle you in, or we go inside the house and (do a less favored activity). But I'd rather go to the playground, wouldn't you?"
Make sure the car seat fits properly for your child's age and weight, that it is installed correctly and does not move more than an inch when tugged on lightly. Make sure the straps are tight enough, but not digging into a leg or pinching a stomach.
Give your child something to play with, something to drink, something to nibble on. Avoid bribing, but make sure your child is comfortable and able to play quietly. Play a tape or CD, sing a song, talk about what you see, tell jokes, play a game (but make sure whoever is driving is keeping eyes and concentration on the road). Consider getting a car TV for the back seat (the driver should never operate or watch the TV while driving).
Give your child some power by having her check to make sure everyone is buckled in.
Take breaks. On long trips, pull over and let your children stretch, use the bathroom, and run around every hour or so -- or whenever they need to. Try not to force too much. Every child will have different tolerances for travel -- try to accommodate -- and in a pleasant way -- as much as you can. On long trips, you might find it helpful to cut down a cardboard box and place it at a comfortable level under the child's feet so that the full weight of her legs isn't on her knees and upper thighs, or pulling at her lower back. This will also help her prop a coloring book or some other activity.
Explain why the car seat, the booster seat, or the seat belt is necessary. Even a young child can understand about hitting a back seat or a windshield with his head and getting a "very big booboo" that would make him cry.
If your older children complain that their friends don't have to buckle in, you can explain things more graphically. In age-appropriate ways, explain what can happen to their head, their spine, or their life in even a minor fender bender. You can ask a community police officer, a hospital worker, a firefighter or emergency worker to help you explain.
Stay up to date with the latest safety information - it is our commitment to you that we will represent the latest recommendations and information in related to car seat safety. We recommend that you also consider subscribing to the bi-monthly newsletter produced by Safe Ride News.
Car Seat.Org - Carseat, Vehicle & Child Passenger Safety Forums
Discussion forum on car safety, child passenger safety, carseats and their safe installation. Buying advice and help for choosing new vehicles and car seats. Chat and blog about child seat issues with expert technicians and advocates - www.car-seat.org
Support The Kyle David Miller Foundation By Using Our Partner In Giving