Is Your Child Using the Correct Car Seat for Safety?

Is Your Child Using the Correct Car Seat for Safety?Think that you’ve done everything you can to protect your children when he or she is riding in your car? That’s probably not the case, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan. The study found that only a small percentage of U.S. child passengers are riding in age-appropriate car seats.

The researchers studied information collected about nearly 21,500 child passengers under age 13. They found that the older children were, the less likely they were to be restrained properly. Minority children were less likely to be in the age-appropriate child safety seat compared with their white counterparts, and children were less likely to be restrained when the car’s driver wasn’t using a seat belt.

The study authors used 2011 car seat standards from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to measure how appropriately the children were restrained. They found that:

  • Most parents are moving their infants out of rear-facing car seats after age 1, while guidelines call for children to be in such seats until they age 2.
  • Fewer than 2 percent of children older than 7 use booster seats, although the guidelines suggest their use until children reach a height of 57 inches, or 4¾ feet.
  • Too many young children are riding in the front seat despite the standards indicating that they should remain back-seat passengers until age 13.

Using the right car seat might save your child’s life. Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of U.S. children age 1 to 12. In 2010, an average of three children age 14 and younger were killed and 469 injured every day in U.S. car crashes, according to NHTSA.

Children traveling in car seats have much better odds of surviving than those who aren’t, according to NHTSA spokesman José Alberto Uclés. Research shows that for infants less than 1 year old, using safety seats reduced deaths in passenger car crashes by 71 percent and in light truck crashes by 58 percent. For children age 1 to 4, the use of a car seat reduced deaths by 54 percent in passenger car crashes and 59 percent in light truck crashes.

For children 4 to 7, the use of booster seats instead of just seat belts can reduce injury risk by 59 percent, according to a study by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Choosing the Best Seat

So why aren’t parents using safety seats correctly? Some may not understand what’s at stake.

“I think many parents aren’t aware that each time you move from one type of child restraint to the next one, your child gets into a less-safe seating option,” says Tess Benham, manager of home and community safety initiatives at the National Safety Council.

A rear-facing infant seat has a slight reclining angle that protects a child’s neck and spine during a crash; some of that protection is lost with a forward-facing seat. A child seat that uses a five-point-harness system – with two shoulder straps, two hip straps and a crotch strap – provides more protection from injury than a booster seat, which in turn is safer for a child than a seat belt.

Parents also may feel pressure from older children who don’t want to sit in car seats or booster seats.

“Families with several children, all of child-seat age, can find it very challenging to find safe seating positions in a vehicle for all of them,” Benham says.

To make sure your child is riding safely, check out the NTHSA website for the latest guidelines on child safety seats. You also can get one-on-one (and usually free) assistance in buying, installing and using the right child car restraints at inspection stations throughout the U.S. NHTSA’s station locator can direct you to the sites in your community.

Laura Adams
She is senior insurance analyst for Bankrate Insurance and writes for CarInsuranceQuotes, a leading online provider of free car insurance quotes and news. She is also a personal finance expert and award-winning author of several books, including “Money Girl’s Smart Moves to Grow Rich.”

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