According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 12. In 2013, 38% of the children killed were completely unrestrained. Even though many parents believe they have done the right thing by placing their children in car seats, 3 out of 4 kids are still not as safe as possible because the car seat has been improperly used.
What can parents and caregivers do to best protect their children in the car?
The first thing to do is familiarize yourself with the difference between what is legal and what is the best practice—the two can be very different.
- Texas law states that a child must be in a car seat if they are under age 8 or until they are 4’9” tall.
- The best practice for restraining children is to keep them in each phase of restraint (rear facing, front facing with a five-point harness, or booster) for as long as possible, which means until they reach the maximum height or weight requirements as stated by the car seat manufacturer.
When your child reaches a height of 4’9” tall, he or she can be safely moved to a regular vehicle seat. 4’9” is the height at which a child’s legs can typically bend appropriately at the seat’s edge, his or her feet can touch the floor, and the vehicle seat belt appropriately crosses their shoulder and chest.
Children should remain in the back seat until age 13, when they are typically big enough to sit in the front passenger seat. Although a frontal air bag is designed to save lives, it deploys at great force and can cause severe injury or even death when a small child (especially if still in a rear-facing car seat) is placed in the front seat of the vehicle.
*Consult your vehicle and car seat manual if you feel you have no choice but to put a child in the front seat with an air bag.
What is the right direction for my child to face?
Remember, your child should stay in each phase of car seat placement for as long as possible.
- Children should be in rear-facing position until a minimum of 2 years old, but preferably longer. They should stay rear-facing until they max out the rear-facing weight limit of the car seat (refer to car seat manufacturer’s instructions).
- Some parents prefer to buy a new seat with higher weight limits to maintain the rear-facing position. This may allow a child to stay rear-facing until they are 35 or 40 pounds (often times 3-4 years old). Rear-facing is the safest possible direction for children to face in order to minimize crash forces that cause head, neck, and spine injuries.
- When the child maxes out of the rear-facing position, you may turn them to forward-facing with a five-point harness. Children should also stay in this position until they max out the weight limit of their seat.
- Once they reach that top weight limit, they are ready for a transition to a booster seat. Children need to stay in a booster seat until they reach 4’9” tall, which can sometimes be age 10 or older.
Securing your child in a booster until age 10 can be a struggle with any budding tween, but doing so could be critical in protecting your child from injury or death in the event of a crash. The best way to keep your child safe in a car is to put them in the right seat, in the right place in the vehicle—EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Kristen Hullum, RN, MSN
Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator
St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center
*St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, in partnership with Baby Earth and Williamson County EMS, conducts car seat check events every month at the Baby Earth store location. Call Baby Earth at 512-600-7050 to make an appointment.
**If you are unable to afford a car seat for your child, please contact the St. David’s Round Rock Trauma Services Department at 512-341-6612 to discuss your eligibility for a free car seat and safety education through the Texas Safe Rider’s program. You may also contact Safe Riders at 1-800-252-8255 for other distribution locations around Central Texas or for classes in Spanish.
• Safe Kids http://www.safekids.org/car-seat
• National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) http://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm
• American Academy of Pediatricians https://healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx
• Texas DPS Best Practice: https://www.dps.texas.gov/director_staff/public_information/carseat.htm
• Safe Riders https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/saferiders/