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Child Restraints and Safety Belts 

Identifying the Problem

Motor vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death in the United States among young people. In 2003, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported, “motor vehicle crashes still cause about 1 of every 3 injury deaths among children. Among those 4-12 years old, crash injuries are the leading cause of death. Most of the deaths are passenger vehicle occupants, and proper restraint use can reduce these fatalities.”2

Child Restraint Devices

According to NHTSA, child restraint use has increased to record-breaking levels; however, “nearly 73 percent of child restraints are improperly used, needlessly exposing children to an increased risk of death or injury.”3 To reduce the problem, many local law enforcement agencies offer parents and other caregivers training on the proper way to use and install child restraint systems. Additionally, NHTSA created and published guidelines to help adults understand how to protect their young passengers, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1

General Child Seat Use Information

Buckle Everyone. Children Age 12 and Under in Back!

 

AGE /
WEIGHT

SEAT TYPE /
SEAT POSITION

USAGE TIPS

INFANTS

Birth to at least 1 year and at least 20 pounds.

Infant-Only Seat/rear-facing or Convertible Seat/used rear-facing.

Seats should be secured to the vehicle by the safety belts or by the LATCH system.

  • Never use in a front seat where an air bag is present.
  • Tightly install child seat in rear seat, facing the rear.
  • Child seat should recline at approximately a 45 degree angle.
  • Harness straps/slots at or below shoulder level (lower set of slots for most convertible child safety seats).
  • Harness straps snug on child; harness clip at armpit level.

Less than 1 year/ 20-35 lbs.

Convertible Seat/used rear-facing (select one recommended for heavier infants).

Seats should be secured to the vehicle by the safety belts or by the LATCH system.

  • Never use in a front seat where an air bag is present.
  • Tightly install child seat in rear seat, facing the rear.
  • Child seat should recline at approximately a 45 degree angle.
  • Harness straps/slots at or below shoulder level (lower set of slots for most convertible child safety seats).
  • Harness straps snug on child; harness clip at armpit level.

PRESCHOOLERS
/TODDLER

1 to 4 years/ at least 20 lbs. to approximately 40 lbs.

Convertible Seat/forward-facing or Forward-Facing Only


Seats should be secured to the vehicle by the safety belts or by the LATCH system.

  • Tightly install child seat in rear seat, facing forward.
  • Harness straps/slots at or above child’s shoulders (usually top set of slots for convertible child safety seats).
  • Harness straps snug on child; harness clip at armpit level.

YOUNG
CHILDREN

4 to at least 8 years/unless they are 4’9" (57") tall.

Belt-Positioning Booster (no back, only) or High Back Belt-Positioning Booster.

NEVER use with lap-only belts—belt-positioning boosters are always used with lap AND shoulder belts.

  • Booster used with adult lap and shoulder belt in rear seat.
  • Shoulder belt should rest snugly across chest, rests on shoulder; and should NEVER be placed under the arm or behind the back.
  • Lap-belt should rest low, across the lap/upper thigh area—not across the stomach.

While these guidelines are useful in helping parents protect child passengers from injury in the event of a crash or incident, State laws rarely incorporate them.

Many adults place children in the front seat. Fifteen percent of infants and a third of 4- to 7-year-olds are seated in the front of motor vehicles, according to NHTSA’s National Center for Statistical Analysis (NCSA).4 This is problematic. Adults should require all children 12 and younger to sit in the back seat: “Sitting in a rear seat instead of the front seat reduces fatal injury risk by 36 percent among children 12 and younger.”5

Adults also need to be cognizant of the need for older children to use safety belts. In September 2004, prosecutors charged a mother with three counts of injury to a child after not requiring her children to wear their safety belts prior to a deadly car crash.6

ruleline

2 “Fatality Facts 2003: Children,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts/pdf/children.pdf

3 “Survey Finds Nearly 73 Percent of Child Restrains Misused: NHTSA Launches New Campaign to Promote Booster Seat Use,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, February 11, 2004

4 D. Glassbrenner, The Use of Child Restraints in 2002, NHTSA Research Note, DOT HS 809 555, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, February 2003

5 “Fatality Facts: Children 2002,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Highway Loss Data Institute, June 11, 2004

6 M. Terrell, “Woman charged in fatal accident,” Times Record News, September 18, 2004, www.timesrecordnews.com/trn/local_news/article/0,1891,TRN_5784)3191522,00.ht.

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