Car seat safety reminders

Take time to be sure your child is safe on the road.

Make sure your children are riding safely in the car. Photo by Carrie Shrier, MSU Extension.
Make sure your children are riding safely in the car. Photo by Carrie Shrier, MSU Extension.

Summer is a time for fun and relaxation. In Michigan, many families head to one of our beautiful Great Lakes for time on the beach or up north to a cabin or camping get-away. It takes a lot of preparation before busy families with young children are ready to hit the road for vacation. Along with packing all the toys, clothes, beach towels and swim suits, take time before you leave to see if your children are riding safely in the car.

The leading cause of death and injury to children ages 1 to 14 is car crashes. Research indicates that over 75 percent of children are improperly restrained in the car, and are therefore at greater risk of injury in a collision.

Michigan State University Extension and safety experts offer the following advice regarding safe vehicle transportation.

Infants and toddlers

Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing child restraint from birth through the maximum height and weight of their rear-facing convertible car seat, or a minimum of 2 years of age. Rear-facing restraints offer optimal protection for a child’s head, neck and spine in a car crash.

Research indicates children through age 2 in rear-facing restraints are 500 percent less likely to be seriously injured in crashes.

Preschoolers and young children

Once a child has reached the maximum height and weight limit of their rear-facing restraint, it is time to move to a forward-facing harnessed seat. These forward-facing harnessed seats help restrain active young people in the vehicle.

Harnesses should be tightened so you cannot pinch slack on the harness strap at the shoulder. The chest clip should be placed at armpit level. Children should remain in their harnessed car seat to the maximum height and weight limit of their car seat.

School-age children

After a child has outgrown the height and weight of their harnessed seat, and once they are capable of sitting still for every ride every time, children are ready to move into a belt positioning booster seat. For most children, this happens around kindergarten entry age, but every child is different. Most booster seats have a minimum weight of 40 pounds. However, it is worth noting that a 40-pound 3-year-old is not mature enough to hold still in a vehicle and will not be optimally protected in a belt positioning booster seat.

Children should ride in their booster seats until they are at least 4-foot 9-inches tall and can fit the vehicle seat belt like an adult. For most children, this occurs around 10-12 years of age. Although Michigan state law allows children to discontinue a booster at 8 years of age, this is not recommended.

Eight-year-old children who are not yet 4-foot 9-inches and do not fit their seat belt are at risk of injury from the seat belt. When the belt rides high up onto their abdomen, damage to the bladder, bowl, spleen and spinal cord care caused by the seat belt in a crash. This is called seat belt syndrome and is a serious risk for children under 4-foot 9-inches riding without the protection of a booster seat.


Keep your child in a booster seat until the seat belt fits properly. For the lap belt to fit properly, it must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not riding up into the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie across the shoulder and chest and not cross into the neck or face. Note that this will happen at different times in different vehicles. For example, a child will likely fit better in the backseat of a compact car before they fit well in a captain’s chair of a large SUV.

Children under 13 should continue to ride in the back seat of the vehicle in a lap and shoulder belt. Newer booster seats sold as “youth positioning seats” in solid colors designed to blend into vehicles are offering an option for smaller youth to ride safely without being seen by their friends in a booster seat. Be sure to teach your tween the importance of buckling up when riding with friends.

Take time to make an appointment with a certified car seat technician in your area to see if your car seats are installed and used correctly, and to be sure your tween is big enough to ride without a booster. These appointments usually only take about 20 minutes and are typically free. It is well worth the time to be sure your child is riding safely before you head out on vacation.

Visit the Michigan State University Extension website for resources and information for families and children, and to find upcoming events in your area.

Did you find this article useful?