Motor Vehicle Safety for Children
For children between the ages of 3 and 14, accidental injury-related deaths happen
most often when riding in a car. Children are more likely to be injured, suffer more
severe injuries, or die in motor vehicle crashes when they are not properly restrained.
According to the CDC, car seats reduce the risk of death by 71% for infants and 54%
for toddlers less than 4 years old.
With proper measures made in advance, such as the proper use of child safety seats
that are appropriate for a child's age, most accidental injuries and accidental injury-related
deaths can be prevented. Children can get hurt when parents or caregivers do not properly
restrain them when riding in a vehicle, or are unaware of the dangers associated with
certain motor vehicle situations. High-risk situations may include the following:
Lack of the use of child safety restraints or improper use of safety restraints in
Improperly used or installed child safety seats
Placing children in front of passenger seat air bags (either in an infant safety seat
or sitting facing forward)
Allowing children to ride in the cargo areas of pickup trucks
Leaving children unattended in cars
Use of safety restraints in motor vehicles
Physically, children are smaller than average adults. Their smaller size means that
the standard safety belts in motor vehicles do not properly fit to protect children's
One age group, from 4 to 8 years of age, is especially at risk for improperly using
safety belts in motor vehicles. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children
do not fit in adult shoulder and lap belts (without a booster seat) until they are
57 inches tall, and between the ages of 8 and 12.
However, children between the ages of 4 to 8 years who have outgrown their child safety
seat often are placed too soon in adult shoulder and lap belts without a booster seat.
A booster seat is necessary if the shoulder strap of the seat belt crosses your child's
neck rather than her chest and the lap belt crosses her stomach rather than her hips
or upper thighs.
Use of child safety seats
Many people think they have installed their child safety seat correctly and believe
they are using it properly. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
proves differently. As many as 73% of child safety seats are found to be improperly
installed and/or used. A child can suffer injuries or death in a motor vehicle crash
if the child safety seat is not properly installed or used.
Some of the most common mistakes in installing or using child safety seats include
Safety belt not holding the seat in tightly and/or not in locked mode
Harness straps not snug and/or positioned correctly
Harness retainer clip not at armpit level
Locking clip not used correctly
Car seat recalled and not repaired (includes booster seats)
Infants placed rear-facing in front of an active air bag
Children turned forward-facing before reaching 2 years of age and 20 pounds
Parents and caregivers should carefully read their vehicle owner's manual and the
instructions that come with the child safety seat to make sure that the seat belt
is properly installed and used. Some child safety seats are not compatible with certain
vehicles. Try the child's safety seat in your vehicle before you purchase it. Also,
place your child in the child safety seat before purchase to make sure of proper fit.
The danger of air bags
Air bags, when properly used with the vehicles' lap and shoulder belts system, can
save adult lives. However, air bags can increase the danger to a child's safety.
When infants in rear-facing child safety seats and children who are unrestrained are
placed in the front seat with an air bag, they may be too close to an inflating air
bag in the event of a crash. An air bag will inflate at speeds up to 200 mph, which
can hurt passengers who are too close to the air bag. In addition, because of the
child's size, the air bag can strike him or her on the head or neck, resulting in
serious or fatal injuries.
To make that your child is as safe as possible in a vehicle, never place him or her
in front of an air bag. The safest place for small children riding in vehicles is
the rear seat, away from the impact of head-on crashes. If your child must ride in
the front seat, move the seat as far back as possible, away from the air bag. If the
car has no back seat, infants will only be safe in their rear-facing child safety
seats if the vehicle has no air bag, or if the air bag has been switched off (a choice
in some vehicles).
Riding in the cargo area of trucks
Pickup trucks, although popular vehicles, may not be as safe as other vehicles for
small children. Limited cab space often leads to parents letting their children ride
in the cargo area. However, riding in cargo areas increases the risk of dying when
involved in a crash. Being thrown from the cargo area is the main cause of injury
and death for cargo passengers. Covered cargo areas, too, can pose a danger to children
because of carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is campaigning for stricter
passenger safety laws nationwide for passengers riding in pickup trucks. Currently,
8 states prohibit people of all ages from riding in cargo areas with some exceptions.
Also, 31 other states have placed certain restrictions on riding in pickup truck open
beds. To protect your children, the NHTSA recommends that children never be allowed
to ride or play in cargo areas of any vehicles.
A child's nature is to explore his or her surroundings. Unfortunately, this exploration
can place a child in danger. Accidental trunk entrapment, when children lock themselves
in a trunk, can be fatal due to hyperthermia (heat stroke) and/or asphyxiation (suffocation).
To prevent accidental trunk entrapment, teach your children not to play in and around
vehicles. Always lock the vehicle and keep the keys away from children. Carefully
watch your young children when they are around vehicles. Keep rear fold-down seats
closed inside the vehicle.
Leaving children unattended in cars
As tempting as it may be to run a quick errand, leaving children unattended inside
a vehicle, "even for a minute," can be dangerous. When left unattended, children may
be able to start the vehicle or put the vehicle in neutral. In addition, heat buildup
or dangerously cold temperatures inside a vehicle can quickly become fatal to children.