Car and Booster Seat Safety

Just buckling up isn't enough to keep your infants and children safe on the road.

Use of a car or booster seat reduces the risks of automobile related death and injury for infants and children by almost 70 percent. So, why are motor vehicle collisions still the leading cause of death and injury for infants and children? [TO THE CONTRARY, THE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA HAS SHOWN THAT EVEN WHEN MISUSED, CAR SEATS DO A GREAT JOB OF PROTECTING CHILDREN] Because not all parents are using car seats with children, despite laws in all 50 states mandating their use. For example only 6% of children between age 4 and 8 use booster seats in the car. Riding in an automobile is the most dangerous part of your child's life, so protect your little ones (and big kids too!) by making sure you use a correctly installed potentially life-saving seat.

If you thought graduating from kindergarten meant no more car seat-Think again. Child safety experts recommend that four- to eight-year-olds be restrained with vehicle belt in a booster seat while in the car. Luckily, some of the new big kid boosters come with cool cup holders! California law currently requires that children be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) until they are at least 8 years old or 4'9" tall. But we know that many children over six aren't big enough for adult seat belts. Serious injuries can result from a lap belt that rests across a child's abdomen or a shoulder strap that crosses his neck. Booster seats help position an adult vehicle seat belt so it properly fits over your child's lap and across her collarbone. This may seem like a hassle when it is your turn for carpool, but the safety benefits more than make-up for the inconvenience.

Putting a child's car seat in your car isn't enough-it must be installed correctly. If you thought that installing your child's car seat was harder than programming your VCR, you're not alone. Some car seats fit better in certain cars, so try out the car seat soon after you buy it (if not before) to make sure it's a good fit. Buy a car seat thta fits your child, your vehicle, and one you will use correctly everytime. If you have questions, call the manufacturer's toll free number or visit their website. It may take longer than you like, but your child is worth the extra few minutes to make sure her car seat is installed correctly. 

Car manufacturers have also gotten on board. Since September 2002 all new vehicles are required to have LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). It's an easier car seat attachment system. If you need help, many police departments and fire stations will check your car or booster seat to make sure it's installed properly.

The most dangerous activity your child does is ride in an automobile. Car and booster seats dramatically reduce your child's risk of injury or death in the unfortunate case of an accident. So please buckle her up in a properly installed car seat or belt-positioning booster seat.

So how do you know if your child's seat is safe?

  • Make sure you use the correct seating position (see table below) and vehicle seat belt. Door mounted or automatic seat belts (move when the door is opened) can NOT be used. You MUST use rear, middle seat if available. Lap belts that only lock during a sudden stop or crash can NOT be used.
  • NEVER use a locking clip with a belt-positioning booster seat.
  • Seat belt must be routed as described in the car seat manual!
  • Vehicle seat belt should be tight enough so that your child's car seat can NOT be pulled more than one inch forward or to the side.
  • Make sure to thread the child restraint harness correctly--read your manual. For rear-facing position, shoulder harness must come through back of seat at or below child's shoulders. For forward-facing position, harness must come through back of seat at or above shoulder level. Harness straps should lie flat across child's body. Straps are made wide to absorb force in a crash. Twists, turns or wrinkles may cause injury in an accident.
  • Make sure harness is tight! You should not be able to pinch the harness webbing together at the shoulder harness and your child's collarbone.
  • Chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.