The importance of seat belts and car seats
For children ages 14 and younger, unintentional injury-related deaths happen most
often when riding in a car. According to the most recent statistics, among children
ages 14 and younger who were killed as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, over half
were not using safety restraints at the time of collision.
According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, children ages 4 and younger who ride
in motor vehicles unrestrained are twice as likely to die or suffer injuries in a
Car seats and seat belts must be used correctly to provide the best protection. Children
younger than 12 years old should sit in the backseat. The following are safety guidelines:
Infants (birth to age 2 years)
The infant car seat should:
Be located in the back seat of the automobile
Face the rear of the vehicle
Be secured with a seat belt
Be placed directly on the seat of the car
Always read and understand the car seat manufacturer's instructions and never prop
a child up with blankets or pillows. Never place an infant in a rear-facing child
safety seat in the front seat with an air bag. The new car seat safety recommendations
from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) state that all infants and toddlers
should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat until they reach age 2, or reach the
maximum height and weight allowed by the car seat's manufacturer.
Toddlers and preschoolers (up to 40 pounds)
The car seat should:
Toddlers should ride in a forward facing car seat as long as they fit well—that is,
the child's ears should be below the top of the back of the seat, and his or her shoulders
below the seat strap slots.
School-aged children (40 to 80 pounds)
Check in your state when children can start using safety belts. Regulations differ
from state to state.
Belt-positioning booster seats should be used by all children whose weight or height
is above the limit for forward-facing car seats. Once the car's seat belt fits the
child properly, it can be worn. This usually happens when a child is 8 to 12 years
of age and at least 4 feet 9 inches tall.
The booster seat
The CDC recommends that parents use booster seats when driving with children ages 4
to 8 years, those who weigh more than 40 pounds, and those who have outgrown their
child safety seats.
Booster seats are designed to raise children up on the car seat so that the lap/shoulder
belts fit properly. The preferred type of booster seat is a "belt-positioning" booster
seat and requires a lap/shoulder belt in the back seat of the vehicle. Children should
start using a booster seat when they grow out of their convertible child safety seats.
This happens when their ears are level with the top of the back of the safety seat,
and their shoulders are above the top strap slots. It also happens when they reach
the upper weight limit for the seat. They should continue to use a booster seat until
they are at least 58 inches tall, have a sitting height of 29 inches, and weigh 80
Booster seats should always be placed in the back seat of the vehicle, and it is recommended
that all children 12 years and younger ride in the back seat.
What are tether anchors?
In an effort to ensure the safety of children in vehicles, manufacturers have a new
standardized child safety seat system in new cars to make seat installations easier.
Known as the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), most new vehicles
will be equipped with upper tether anchors for forward-facing child safety seats that
have top tether straps. By attaching the top of the child safety seat to the vehicle,
it ensures a more securely attached child safety seat, increasing the protection for
the child. In addition, new vehicles will be equipped with special child seat anchorage
points between the vehicle's seat cushion and seat back, allowing the child seats
to be attached to the anchorage points instead of being secured with the vehicle's
Replacing child safety seats and seat belts after a crash
Once a vehicle has been in a severe crash, child safety seats and seat belts should
be replaced because they may have become stretched or damaged. Always check with your
child safety seat manufacturer concerning questions about the safety of your child's
When car seats are recalled
Sometimes, child safety seats are recalled for safety reasons. To check if your child
safety seat has been recalled, call the seat's manufacturer or the Auto Safety Hot
Line at 1-888-327-4236. If the seat has been recalled, you will be instructed on how
to repair it, or how to obtain parts to repair it.
The importance of shoulder belts
A lap/shoulder belt offers more protection than a lap belt alone. The shoulder belt
prevents forward motion if you are in a head-on crash; it should lie across your shoulder,
but may touch the base of your neck. Never place the shoulder belt behind you or under
your arm. If your car has only lap belts in the rear seat, you should consider installing
lap/shoulder belts. Many cars with lap belts can be modified with shoulder belts for
a small cost. Check with your car's manufacturer.
Most experts believe that many injuries could be prevented if child safety seats and
lap/shoulder belts are installed and used correctly. Remember to always buckle up
when you are in the car, no matter how far you are traveling.
Air bag safety
When used properly, air bags save lives while presenting minimal risk. Almost all
persons who have died from air bag-related injuries were either unrestrained or improperly
However, air bags do pose risks to children ages 12 and younger. For this reason,
the AAP recommends that these children ride properly restrained in the back seat at
all times. They also recommend the following:
Never place an infant under age 1 or under 20 pounds in the front seat of a car with
an air bag. Infants should always ride in a safety seat, facing rear, and in the back
seat of the car.
Properly restrain all children in the appropriate car safety seats, booster seats,
or shoulder/lap belts, based on their size (height and weight).
Install an air bag on/off switch, only if your child has a special healthcare need
and requires constant observation during travel, and no adult is available to ride
in the back seat with the child.
When no other arrangement is possible and an older child must ride in the front seat,
move the vehicle seat back as far away from the air bag as possible. Keep in mind
that the child may still be at risk for injuries from the air bag.
What is the proper use of air bags?
Always buckle your lap/shoulder safety belt as air bags are designed to work with
the safety belts:
Children under age 12 should be restrained in the back seat. A car safety seat with
an infant should never be placed in front of a passenger air bag because the infant's
head is too close to the air bag when it opens.
Drivers should sit at least 10 inches from the steering wheel to provide maximum protection
and minimize friction from contact with the back as the air bag opens.
Drivers should position their hands at the 10- and 2-o'clock positions on the steering
wheel to provide the greatest protection by allowing the air bag to open without anything
in the way.
Who is at risk for falling asleep while driving?
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), experts say that drowsy drivers
are just as dangerous as drunk drivers, yet many people do not hesitate to get behind
the wheel of the car when they are sleepy. Certain individuals are at particular risk
of having a sleep-related car crash. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
All drivers who are sleep deprived
All drivers who are driving long distances without rest
All drivers who are driving through the night
All drivers who are or have been drinking alcohol
All drivers who are or have taken medicine that makes them drowsy
All drivers who are driving alone
Young people (under age 25)
Shift workers (unconventional schedules contribute to fatigue)
Commercial drivers who drive long distances at odd hours
People with undiagnosed sleep disorders
What are the signs of a sleepy driver?
Signs that you, your driver, and/or other drivers on the road may be too sleepy to
be safely driving a vehicle include the following:
Eyes closing or going out of focus
Trouble keeping head up
Wandering, disconnected thoughts
Not remembering driving during the past few minutes
Drifting between lanes, tailgating, or missing traffic signs
Jerking the car back into the lane
Drifting off the road and narrowly missing a crash
Anyone who is experiencing any of these symptoms should pull off the road and find
a safe place to nap right away.
Driving while taking medicines
Drivers taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines should be especially cautious.
These can often cause immediate drowsiness. A recent study found that people taking
common antihistamines and allergy medicines had poorer driving performance than those
who consumed alcohol. Healthcare providers recommend not driving after taking these
medicines, or driving with extreme caution if driving is absolutely necessary.
The three main types of distraction are:
Visual (eyes not on the road)
Manual (hands not on the wheel)
Cognitive (mind not on driving)
Distracted driving is blamed for reported car accidents each day in the United States
that result in over 9 deaths and over 1,153 injuries.