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Child Passenger Safety Basics

Rear Facing


0-3 years old (Until minimum of age 2 as per AAP recommendation)

Rear facing is the safest way for children to travel. It is the best way to prevent brain and spinal cord injuries. A child should ride in a rear-facing car seat AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. It is best practice to rear face to a minimum of age 2, and ideally until the child reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Children under 2 years old are 75% safer rear facing. Children 12-24 months are 5 times less likely to be killed or seriously injured when rear facing than forward facing.  Feet touching the back of seat is not a safety concern - approx 0.1% of kids rear-facing will suffer lower extremity injury - the rate is much higher when forward-facing.  Also, kids are flexible, so it is not uncomfortable for them. Check out more about rear facing basics, science, and crash dynamics.

  • Position harness straps at or below shoulders.
  • Position chest clip at armpit level.
  • Install seat at the correct angle and through the correct belt path.
  • Child should have no less than 1" of car seat shell above their head (unless otherwise specified in the manual) 
  • Car seat should be installed with LATCH or Seat Belt, Never both (unless otherwise specified by car seat and vehicle manufacturers)
  • Car seat should be installed with no more that 1" of movement side-to-side or front-to-back at the belt path, with LATCH or locked seat belt.


Forward facing with 5-point harness


2-7 years old

Forward facing in a convertible, combination, or 3-in-1 car seat with a 5-point harness when child has outgrown the height and weight limits of their rear-facing seat and is over 2 years old.

*Legal minimum is age of 1, however skeletal development is not mature enough to safely forward face before age 2+ as per AAP and NHTSA. Forward facing too soon substantially increases likelihood of head and neck injuries and deaths.

Whenever possible, always tether the forward-facing seat! The top tether is the strap that secures top of car seat to anchor in back of vehicle - it decreases brain & spinal cord injury by decreasing child’s head excursion in crash.

  • Position harness straps at or above shoulders.
  • Position chest clip at armpit level.
  • Ears should be below the top of the shell.
  • Install seat through the correct belt path.
  • Top tether should be attached whenever possible.
  • Car seat should be installed with LATCH or Seat Belt, Never both (unless otherwise specified by car seat and vehicle manufacturers)
  • Car seat should be installed with no more that 1" of movement side-to-side or front-to-back at the belt path, with LATCH or seat belt locked.


Belt Positioning Booster


4-12 years old

Belt positioning booster should be used when a child has outgrown their five point harness and is mature enough to sit properly, usually not before age of 5. Booster positions seat belt properly on child’s body, because a poorly positioned seat belt is a major source of injury to spinal cord & abdominal organs.

  • Shoulder belt should fit properly (evenly across and flush with the torso, not cutting into the neck, slipping off the shoulder, or held out in front of the chest)
  • Lap belt should fit properly (low on the hips; on top of the thighs)
  • Child has to be mature enough to stay seated in the proper position for the entire ride (without leaning out of the seat belt or unbuckling), even while asleep
  • Can only be used with a lap-and-shoulder belt (never with a lap-only belt)
  • Shoulder belt should be threaded through the belt guide and positioned at or above the child’s shoulders.
  • When using a backless booster, the vehicle must have a headrest that is at least high enough to be at the tips of the child's ears.
  • When the child is not in the vehicle, the booster may become a projectile and should be secured by a seat belt or lower anchors.  


Vehicle Seat Belt Alone


8+ years old

When a child has outgrown their booster seat and meets all of the following 5 criteria (usually about 10-12 years old), they are ready for an adult seat belt alone. All children must ride in the back seat of the vehicle until age 13.

  • Child sits comfortably all the way back in the vehicle seat with their knees bent at the edge of the vehicle seat.
  • Shoulder belt fits evenly across the torso, not cutting into the neck or face.
  • Lap belt is low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs (not on the abdomen).
  • Feet are on the floor.
  • Child can remain seated comfortably this way for the entire ride.

Always read the Car Seat and the Vehicle User Manuals. If possible, have the car seat installation inspected by a local certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.

 

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These updated recommendations for child passenger safety are based on the Best Practices for injury prevention as per American Academy of Pediatrics and NHTSA.