Car seat safety is a big deal. While the rate of motor vehicle-related deaths have significantly decreased over the past 12 years (a 45% drop), it is still the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. For every 1 child who dies in a motor vehicle accident, approximately 18 more are hospitalized, and another 400 children require some type of medical intervention.
One of the more confusing aspects of choosing a car seat has to do with the lack of consistency between the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and New York State law. The confusion surrounds age and weight limits, infant versus child, rear-facing versus forward-facing, convertible versus booster, and back seat versus front seat. There are hundreds of options available when choosing a car seat. The AAP updated the car seat guidelines in 2011. These guidelines include age expansion for rear-facing car seats, as well as vehicle safety for older kids.
First, let’s consider the various types of car seats: infant, convertible, forward-facing, and booster.
According to the AAP, all children of all ages should ride in an age-appropriate child restraint system regardless of type of transportation. According to NYS law, all children under the age of 4 must be restrained in a federally approved car seat. While riding on a school bus, only children under the age of four must ride in a federally approved car seat.
Infant car seat
All car seats vary in terms of exact weight and height limits slightly, though, in general, infant car seats are used only for rear-facing and most are outgrown by the age of 1, typically up to 22 lbs and 25 inches in length. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children remain rear-facing until the age of 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight limits established by the manufacturer. Convertible car seats may be used rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster, and allows children to remain rear-facing for a longer period of time, generally up to 40 lbs. Rear facing car seats cradle your child’s head, neck, and fragile spinal cord, which are protected during a crash. In a study published in 2007, children under the age of 2 are 75% less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash if rear-facing. Keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. Once your child outgrows a rear-facing car seat (according to height/weight limits of the car seat manufacturer), he is ready for a forward-facing car seat.
Convertible (3-in-1) Car Seat and Forward-Facing Car Seat
Kids should remain in a forward facing car seat or convertible car seat until they outgrow the height or weight restriction. The harness protection provides better stability and security in the event of a crash. Check the manufacturer recommendations for height/weight standards for sizing. Many of the newer convertible and forward-facing car seats can accommodate higher weight and height limits.
Once your child outgrows the forward facing car seat or convertible car seat, he is ready for a booster seat. There are two different types of booster seats, the high back booster and the backless booster.
Both the lap belt AND shoulder belts should be used while in a booster seat. The high back booster seats allow for the vehicle-equipped seat belt to be adjusted according to the child’s height, while the backless booster may not allow the vehicle equipped safety belt to fit properly, especially across the shoulder. Seat belts should be snug across the shoulder and lie across the upper thighs, and should avoid the neck and abdomen. If the seat belt does not lie properly across the child’s shoulders and upper thighs, the seat is not appropriate.
High-Back Booster and Low-Back Booster
As you know, children come in all shapes and sizes. NYS law requires a booster seat until the child’s 8th birthday, however most children are not large enough at the age of 8 to wear the adult seat belt safely. Children must be 4’9” or taller in order to ride in vehicle safely without a booster seat. The seat belt must lie across the shoulders and upper thighs, not the neck or abdomen. This recommendation is endorsed by the American Academy of pediatrics. While your child may be older than 8, he may not be tall enough to be restrained safely without a booster. Seat belts are not designed for children under 4’9” and will not provide adequate protection for children who are shorter than this.
While there is no law stating children under 12 may not ride in the front seat, it is highly recommended that children ride in the back seat until the age of 13. It is estimated that the chance of injury and death is reduced by 30% to the child when riding in the backseat. Additionally, all children under the age of 16 must wear a seat belt, regardless of front or back seat.
Now to install the car seat…a whole other topic. Car seats may be secured by using either the vehicle-equipped seat belt or the LATCH system. Cars manufactured 2002 or later come standard with the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). The LATCH system consists of one higher tether behind the head rest and two lower anchors to secure the car seat. Because car seats are heavier and heavier and there is a concern that the LATCH system is not strong enough to accommodate the heavier weight, a revision to the LATCH safety standards is expected to accommodate children only up to 65 lbs. The link below lists car seat installation clinics/offices located in the area.