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Car Seat Safety: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Car Seat Safety: What Every Parent Needs to Know

If you had to transport a precious piece of jewelry to its destination, wouldn't you take the utmost precaution to deliver it safely? Yet, every year in the United States many children die or are injured in car crashes because they're not properly restrained in a motor vehicle. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among children.


You can decrease the risk of automobile-related injury or death to your child by following these guidelines:
  • All children under 40 lbs. (up to about 4 years of age) should be strapped into car seats.

  • When purchasing a car seat, make sure that it meets federal standards (it will say so on the box).

  • When borrowing or buying a used car seat, make sure that it's never been involved in a car accident.

  • Read the car seat's instruction booklet carefully prior to installation. Also, review your car's owner's manual to insure proper use of your car's restraints with the seat. If you are required to install a locking clip on the seat belt, the car seat manufacturer should have provided you with one.

Choosing the proper car seat:

  • Infant Seat For babies up to 1 year of age or up to 20 lbs. (whichever comes first). This type must always be positioned to face the rear of the vehicle. The harness straps should be installed at a height that is at or below shoulder level.

  • Convertible From birth to 40 lbs. Although this type of seat can be used longer, it is important to remember that until the child weighs at least 20 lbs., it must face the rear. Furthermore, convertible seats tend not to support the infant as well as seats designed solely for infants. You may want to roll some towels, placing them around the infant to fit the empty space between the child and the sides of the seat. After your baby reaches 20 lbs., the shoulder straps should be at or above the shoulders.

  • Booster From 40 to 60 lbs. These are not required in all states. However, children of this size are not properly restrained by regular shoulder-lap belts. The lap portion may ride up over the abdomen, causing serious injury to internal organs during a crash. The shoulder portion will impinge on the neck. A booster raises the height of the child, allowing the belt to be properly positioned.
Finally, all children under the age of 12 should be restrained in the back seat of a car. If there's an option, the middle seat is preferable. A child should never ride in the front seat, particularly an infant strapped in an infant seat. If there's no alternative, the front seat should be moved back as far as possible. Passenger-side air bags are designed to inflate very quickly and at great force and can cause serious injury and even death to a child.

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About The Author

Lita Aeder, M.D., is an assistant professor of pediatrics at State University of New York, Downstate, and acting director of pediatric primary care at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.

The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.


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