September is Child Passenger Safety month

Many parents don’t realize the risks they take when they head out the door each day. Review these top ten tips to see if your children are riding safely!

Now is a great time to review the steps you should take to keep your children safe in the car! Photo credit: Pixabay.
Now is a great time to review the steps you should take to keep your children safe in the car! Photo credit: Pixabay.

Every day, the majority of Americans families pile into their car with their children and set off to school. Families head off to run errands – to go visit Grandma – to grab a bite to eat – without ever realizing that driving is the most dangerous activity they will do with their child each and every day.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death and injury to children in the United States ages 1 to 12. Tragically, many of these deaths are preventable. Studies show that more than 80 percent of child restraints are not used correctly, and research indicates that nearly 50 percent of the deaths occur when children are completely unrestrained in the vehicle. September is National Child Passenger Safety Awareness Month, and it is a great time to review the steps you should take to keep your children safe in the car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) divides the steps for children by age: birth-12 months, 1-3 years of age, 4-7 years of age and 8-12 years of age.

  1. Birth to 12 months
    Children under one must always ride in a rear-facing seat. There are two types of rear-facing seats: infant-only, or “carrier,” seats and convertible seats that can be set up to face rear or forward, depending on the child’s age. The convertible style seats do not snap in and out of the car like many of the infant-only seats, however they typically have higher weight and height limits and will last children longer.
  2. 1 to 3 years of age
    Toddlers should remain in rear-facing seats until the maximum height and weight of their seats. This is a change from previous advice to turn toddlers forward facing when he or she reached age 1 and 20 pounds. Research shows that rear-facing toddlers are 500 percent less likely to sustain severe spinal cord damage in crashes when they are rear-facing. Once a toddler has exceeded the height or weight limit of their seat, they can be turned forward-facing, but should remain in a five-point harness.
  3. 4 to 7 years of age
    Children ages 4 to 7 should remain in their forward-facing harnessing seat until they exceed the height or weight limits. New child restraints on the market are allowing children to remain in harnessed seats for much longer periods of time. Once a child has exceeded the height or weight limit of their seat, they should be moved to a booster seat. Children remain safest in the rear of the vehicle.
  4. 8 to 12 years of age
    Children ages 8 to 12 should remain in a booster seat until the seat belt fits them correctly, with the lap portion low on their hips and touching the top of their thighs and the shoulder belt passing through the center of their shoulder. This typically happens for children around 4’9” in height. Data indicates that this age group is the most likely to be not using any sort of restraint in the vehicle. This places children at serious risk of injury from poorly-fitting seat belts. Once a child is tall enough to no longer need a booster seat, he or she should continue to use a lap and shoulder belt at all times in the vehicle. All children should remain in the back seat, as air bags can pose a potential risk for injury in children under age 13.

Many parents ask what car seat is the “safest.” The answer is that there is no “safest” seat. All car seat manufacturers self-certify that their car seats meet the federal standards. The safest seat is the one that fits your child correctly, your vehicle correctly and that you can use correctly for every ride.

How do you know if your car seat fits your child and your vehicle correctly? Or if you are using it correctly? The answer is to have your car seat inspected by a nationally-certified child passenger safety technician. Saturday, September 22 is National Seat Check Saturday. This is an excellent opportunity to find a car seat check event in your community. A list of Seat Check Saturday events can be found online by visiting the Safe Kids website. NHTSA also maintains a list of registered car seat fitting stations.

For more articles related to child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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