New Guidelines for Children’s Car Safety Seat Use
Burman, Critton, Luttier and Coleman LLP Blog
By Dean Xenick
Unfortunately, every year thousands of young children are killed or injured in car crashes. In fact, automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. You can help keep your child safe by properly using car safety seats each and every time your child is transported in a vehicle.
On March 21, 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”) released its updated car safety seat recommendations, which were published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics. The most significant change is that the AAP is now recommending that parents keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. The AAP also advises that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age. Another recommendation is that children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.
These new recommendations differ from the AAP’s previous policy, released in 2002, which recommended that it was safest for infants and toddlers to ride rear-facing up to the limits of the car seat, citing age 12 months and 20 pounds as a minimum. As a result, many parents turned the seat to face the front of the car when their child turned one year old.
As the March 21, 2011 AAP release states:
“Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they’re necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage,” said Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and accompanying technical report.
“A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body,” Dr. Durbin said. “For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly.”
While the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes in children under age 16 has decreased substantially – dropping 45 percent between 1997 and 2009 – it is still the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. Counting children and teens up to age 21, there are more than 5,000 deaths each year. Fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg; for every fatality, roughly 18 children are hospitalized and more than 400 are injured seriously enough to require medical treatment.
New research has found children are safer in rear-facing car seats. A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.
“The ‘age 2’ recommendation is not a deadline, but rather a guideline to help parents decide when to make the transition,” Dr. Durbin said. “Smaller children will benefit from remaining rear-facing longer, while other children may reach the maximum height or weight before 2 years of age.”
Children should transition from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness, until they reach the maximum weight or height for that seat. Then a booster will make sure the vehicle’s lap-and-shoulder belt fit properly. The shoulder belt should lie across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not near the neck or face. The lap belt should fit low and snug on the hips and upper thighs, not across the belly. Most children will need a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.
Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration permits children under age 2 to ride on an adult’s lap on an airplane, they are best protected by riding in an age- and size-appropriate restraint.
“Children should ride properly restrained on every trip in every type of transportation, on the road or in the air,” Dr. Durbin said.
Buckling up your child is the easy part. However, choosing the right seat for your child can be a daunting task, especially with so many different car safety seats on the market today.
The type of car safety seat your child needs depends on several factors, including your child’s size and the type of vehicle you have. The following information from the AAP offers guidance on choosing the most appropriate car safety seat for your child.
Here is an abbreviated list of the AAP’s recommendations regarding car safety seats, taken from the APP website, www.healthychildren.org.
Infants and toddlers—rear-facing
The AAP recommends that all infants should ride rear-facing starting with their first ride home from the hospital. All infants and toddlers should ride in a Rear-Facing Car Safety Seat until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer.
Types of rear-facing car safety seats
There are 3 types of rear-facing car safety seats: infant-only seats, convertible seats, and 3-in-1 seats. When children reach the highest weight or length allowed by the manufacturer of their infant-only seat, they should continue to ride rear-facing in a convertible seat or 3-in-1 seat.
Toddlers and preschoolers—forward-facing
All children 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 years who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car safety seat, should use a Forward-Facing Car Safety Seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer. It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to 4 years of age. If your child outgrows his/her seat before reaching 4 years of age, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.
School-aged children—booster seats
Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing car safety seats. All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a Belt-Positioning Booster Seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age. The owner’s manual that comes with your car safety seat will tell you the height and weight limits for the seat. As a general guideline, a child has outgrown his forward-facing seat when any one of the following is true:
- He/She reaches the top weight or height allowed for his/her seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and also included in the instruction booklet.)
- His/Her shoulders are above the top harness slots.
- His/Her ears have reached the top of the seat.
For more information on this topic, including all of the AAP’s recommendations for how to shop for, install, and use child car safety seats, visit the HealthyChildren.org website by following this link: http://www.healthychildren.org.
You can also view the AAP’s March 21, 2011 News Release with the updated guidelines here: http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/carseat2011.htm.
At Burman, Critton, Luttier & Coleman, making a difference and keeping our communities and children safe is very important to us. If you have questions regarding child safety seats or defective products, please do not hesitate to contact our office.