Car accidents are the leading cause of death in children over 1 year of age. Every year, hundreds of children die, and thousands are injured in motor vehicle collisions. In 2019, 1,053 children under 14 years of age died in a car accident. Of these, 38% were not properly restrained with car seats, booster seats, or seat belts. That is close to half! Being aware of car seat requirements and ensuring you place your child in a properly installed car seat can prevent death or serious injury in the event of a motor vehicle accident.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants ride rear facing in the back seat in an infant or convertible car safety seat until they outgrow the height and weight restrictions of the particular car seat. This should be until at least two years of age for most toddlers, but some convertible seats can support up to 65 pounds. A rear facing car seat protects against head and neck injury by taking the force of impact versus when riding forward facing the child’s head and neck are thrown forward. Due to the head size to body ratio in younger children, such force can result in serious head and neck injuries.
Children can be switched to forward facing in a convertible car seat or forward-facing seat with harness after they outgrow the rear facing seat. Children should remain in a car seat until they outgrow the height and weight requirements for the seat and according to Alabama state law until age 5 or at least 40 pounds.
Booster seats are recommended until the child reaches 4 feet 9 inches and is between 9 and 12 years of age. Seat belts can be used when the child is large enough that the belt fits appropriately across the shoulder and not across the neck. Children under 13 should always ride in the backseat of the vehicle.
The safest place in the car is the back middle seat, although this is not always feasible based on your car and car seat size. The car seat can be installed with seat belts or the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system if your vehicle has this. Often the LATCH system is easier to use but either method is equally safe. A forward-facing seat should always use the top tether when available. Always use your car seat’s instruction manual for exact directions. When wearing bulky clothing such as jackets in the wintertime, take off the outer layers prior to placing the child in the car seat. This will keep the straps tight on the child which is better protection in case of an accident. You should be able to fit 2 fingers but no more under the strap to ensure it is tight enough. The chest clip should be at armpit level.
Remember to always use the appropriate restraint for your child to help protect your family in the unfortunate event of a car accident.