Cars were invented with adults in mind but not necessarily our children. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 12 so ensuring our children are well protected when they’re inside of a vehicle (car, van, or truck) is vital. Each state has its own rules and regulations, but at the very core, child safety seats (or car seats) are required for children of certain ages to reduce the risk of potentially fatal injuries. Whether you have a newborn on the way or a child that’s nearing their teenage years, the Children’s Wellness Center (CWC) providers educate parents on car seat safety and the important safety tips for choosing the best car seat for your child – and ultimately their safety.
If you’re an out of state reader, you’ll want to check with your own State’s specific requirements for car seats but in Georgia, the Child Passenger Safety Law (Code 40-8-76) makes it mandatory for guardians to properly secure children under 8 years old in an approved car seat any time they are in a motorized vehicle. Under the current law, guardians must ensure the following:
- Car seats must be placed in the back seat of the vehicle. Car seats help to reduce the amount of turbulence and shock to an infant’s body, just as seat belts help to secure adults. Air bags are put into place to protect, but when deployed, they can be extremely dangerous for babies and toddlers just from the sheer force itself. Having children secured in the back seat reduces this potential trauma and subsequent injuries in the event of an automobile crash.
- Car seats must meet all U.S. Federal standards. When we buy new cars, we take into the safety rating that tells us how the car performs under crash testing. The same performance testing concept is applied to car seats, so choosing a seat that meets/exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 will ensure that your child’s car seat has been inspected properly and approved to provide the type of protection it’s claiming to offer.
- Car seats must be used in accordance to your child’s weight and height. There are a variety of different types and styles of car seats/booster seats that are meant to be used at different stages of your child’s growth and development. Each type takes into account a child’s height and weight, not their age, to ensure the maximum amount of safety coverage. Unlike clothing, this is one item that you do NOT want to buy so your child can “grow into it” – think of bicycle helmet safety; if it’s not properly fitted and securely fastened, it may not be able to properly protect like it’s intended to do.
- Car seats must be installed and used in accordance to the manufacturer instructions. Just having your child in a car seat is not enough – you have to make sure that it’s installed correctly in order for it to do its job most effectively. Car seats can seem tricky, but there are state funded resources, like Child Safety Seat Fitting locations, that can help install your child’s car seat, or just make sure that the installation you’ve done at home is correct.
Outside of using seat belts, there are three types of recommended car seats for parents to choose from. The CWC pediatricians encourage parents to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for rear-facing car seats, front-facing car seats, and booster seats from the time of your child’s birth up until 12 years of age, or until they reach the maximum height and weight requirement for their safety seat, as stated by the manufacturer. Rear-facing seats are seats that have their back to the driver and face the back of the car. These types of car seats are recommended from birth to 22-35 pounds (depending on the specific car seat) and come equipped with a harness that cradles your child to reduce stress to the neck and spinal cord. It’s recommended that children remain in rear-facing seats until at least two years of age. Even if your child has outgrown their infant carrier, we support the recommendation that children should remain facing backwards, just in a bigger sized seat, to maximize their safety. Front-facing car seats are the next step up in the graduated car seat plan. Intended for children who have outgrown their rear-facing seat, children between 20-80 pounds typically use front-facing car seats which are also equipped with a harness to limit the shock from forward movements in the event of a crash. Lastly, booster seats help to raise children to a higher position in the seat so the seat belt fits their smaller bodies properly. Seat belts were intended for adults, so the positioning doesn’t always fit as snug as it should on the shoulder and chest. We want to reduce the strain on the body and seat belts can often cross a child’s neck or face – which can lead to extra trauma to vital parts of the body during a crash.
The American Academy of Pediatrics created the Healthy Children website to provide parents with additional resources on the health, safety, and well-being of children and teens, including helpful information on car seats (from checkups and installation to buying guides and recall information). The best way to keep your children safe is to read and follow your specific safety seat instructions. We recommend having your child ride in the back seat for as long as possible, or at least until they reach age 12 (or typically once they’ve reached the height of 4 feet 9 inches) before letting them sit in the front seat. The most expensive car seat may not be the best, but accepting used car seats can be dangerous as well as parts may be outdated or unknown safety recalls could have occurred. For extra safety if you’re going the used route, make sure the car seat is less than 6 years old and has not been involved in a crash (just because it looks good cosmetically doesn’t mean that it’s good mechanically). On top of everything, we recommend registering your child’s safety seat through the manufacturer as it will help keep you in the loop of any recalls (if you don’t register you may miss this important information) and always, always wear your seat belt. Set a good example for your kids and help promote car safety that can keep them healthy and safe for years to come!