Car Seat Safety
Bringing home your baby from the hospital is a magical, unforgettable moment. It can also be extremely nerve-wracking. Now you are responsible for the precious cargo that is asleep in the back seat. Here are a few tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Boys Town Pediatrics to make car travel safe and smooth at any age.
Car Safety Regulations
The AAP has five guidelines to follow when determining the safest way for your child to travel.
Rear-facing safety seats: The AAP recommends that infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat for as long as possible, until they reach the highest height or weight allowed by their specific seat. Infants and toddlers tend to have relatively large heads with weak neck muscles, which puts them at a higher risk for head and spine injuries in the event of a crash. The rear-facing structure is most effective in guarding against this type of injury. Most convertible seats have limits that allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more. However, if a child surpasses the height and weight limits of the safety seat before age 2, it is recommended to move on to a front-facing safety seat.
Front-facing safety seats: After their children have outgrown rear-facing seats, parents are encouraged to keep children in front-facing safety seats for as long as possible (until the child passes the manufacturer height and weight limits).
Belt-positioning booster seat: Children who have outgrown their front-facing safety seats can move on to booster seats. A booster seat will make it so that the seat belt fits your child for maximum safety: with the lap portion of the belt falling across the hips and pelvis and the shoulder portion hitting across the middle of the chest and shoulder. Children should remain in their booster seats until a seat belt fits them properly without the booster.
Lap-and-shoulder seat belt: When deciding if your child can move out of the booster seat, the AAP encourages parents to ask themselves three questions: 1) Can your child sit against the vehicle seat back with knees bent at the edge of the vehicle seat without slouching and stay in this position comfortably throughout the trip? 2) Does the shoulder belt lie across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not against your child's neck or face? 3) Is the lap belt low and snug across the upper thighs, not your child's abdomen? If the answer to any of these questions is no, your child is not ready to ride without a booster seat. Once the seat belt fits across the hips, pelvis, chest and shoulders properly without a booster, a child can use the seat belt built in to the vehicle on its own. Typically the child is between 8 and 12 years of age and at least 4 feet 9 inches tall.
Sitting in the front passenger seat: The AAP recommends that children under the age of 13 sit in the back seat only, regardless of if the vehicle seat belt fits them properly.
The state of Nebraska passed new laws, effective in January 2019, for car seat safety. NE LB42 states:
- All children up to age 8 must ride correctly secured in a federally-approved child safety seat.
- Children ride rear-facing until up to age 2 or until they reach the upper weight or height limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
- Children under age 8 must ride in the back seat, as long as there is a backseat equipped with a seatbelt and is not already occupied by other children under 8 years of age.
- Children ages 8 to 18 must ride secured in a safety belt or child safety seat (booster seat).
- Childcare providers must transport all children securely in an appropriate deferally-approved child safety seat or safety belt.
- Children up to age 18 are prohibited from riding in cargo areas.
Iowa law (updated in 2010) states:
- A child under 1 year old and weighing less than 20 lbs. must be secured in a rear-facing child restraint system.
- A child age 1 up to 6 years old must be secured in a child restraint system (a safety seat or booster seat--NOT a seat belt).
- A child from age 6 up to age 11 must be secured in a child restraint system or by a safety belt.
- Rear seat occupants up to age 18 must be secured by a safety belt.
Car Seat Safety
- The middle position in the back seat is considered safest place for a car seat because it is the farthest away from doors and windows that may be impacted in a crash. However, a tight-fitting car seat is essential. If you can't get a tight fit in the middle seat, move the car seat to one of the side positions.
- Dress your child in clothing that will allow a tight fit in the car seat's harnesses. In cold weather, put your child in the seat without a heavy coat and put a coat or blanket over him or her once buckled snugly in the seat.
- Children in rear-facing safety seats should never be placed in a passenger seat, especially if the seat has an active airbag.
- Children under 13 years old are safest in the back seat, away from air bags.
- If your child has physical or behavioral health complications, it may be necessary to take them into account when determining the safest way for him or her to travel.
- To find a trained safety technician in your area who can help you with safety decisions, visit www.cert.safekids.org.
Remember to read the manual for both your infant seat and your car– each vehicle and safety seat is different – and if you have any questions about keeping your child safe on the road, ask your pediatrician.
Car Seat Safety - Boys Town Pediatrics & National Safety Council Nebraska
Tim Tichy, Public Safety Manager
Tim Tichy: Car seats are very important because car crushes are the number one killer of children so it's very important than you have your car seat installed correctly because that's the number one thing you can do to protect them.
What should I look for when buying a car seat?
Tim Tichy: Look for one that is going to be easy to use, fits your pocket book, and is appropriate for your child's height, weight, age, and development.
What should I avoid when buying a car seat?
Tim Tichy: You shouldn't buy second hand seats because you don't know if they have been in a crash. Products to avoid are after-market products. Those would be the toys and such that you hang off the handle. Anything that didn't come with the seat is considered an after-market product. Except for the fact if you look at the owner's manual they will have accessories you can buy and those were crash tested with the seat.
Where can I find safety information on different car seats?
Tim Tichy: You can go to our website www.safenebraska.org and we have some sources there. www.safercar.gov is one. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has an actual site you can go to and it's called ease-of-use for car seats and it actually grades and scores every car seat out there on how easy it is to install, how easy the labels are to read and understand, how easy the manual is to read and understand and it totally rates the seat top to bottom.
What are some common installation mistakes found by certified car seat technicians?
The common problem they have is that they don't have the seat belt locked or the seat belt's not tight enough. It might be locked but it's not tight enough is probably the number one thing and they don't use the harness correctly. They don't have the shoulder belts adjusted correctly and they don't have the harness tight enough. It's always good to have a second set of eyes to double check your work.
The ultimate goal is that the child leaves safer then they arrive.