To order printed copies of these consumer brochures, contact Chamelle Matthew, communications assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being a busy parent means mastering the art of compromise. One area you never want to compromise, though, is the safety of your children. The main thing is to take care of the basics each and every trip so you can be confident your children will be protected in a crash.
These are key:
Children are safest when they ride in the back seat in the right restraint for their age and size, until they are big enough for adult safety belts to fit properly. That means starting out in a rear-facing restraint before moving up to a forward-facing restraint and then a booster seat.
There are lots of choices on the market in terms of style, features and price. Some rear-facing child restraints can be turned around to face forward when a child is older. Some forward-facing child restraints can be converted to booster seats by removing the internal harness and using a safety belt instead. Booster seats also come in backless and highback styles.
Rear-facing child restraint: A rear-facing child restraint in the back seat is best for babies and young children. Never put a baby in a rear-facing restraint in the front seat. Babies should stay in a rear-facing restraint until at least age 1. For the best protection, keep young children rear-facing for as long as possible, until they grow too big for the restraint's height and weight limit. You can find this information in the owner's manual that comes with your seat and also on the label affixed to the seat.
Many infant seats snap into a base that attaches to the vehicle. Make sure the base and seat are tightly secured according to instructions in the owner's manual for both the infant seat and your vehicle. Getting this right can be tricky at first, so be sure to practice a few times before taking your newborn home from the hospital.
Be sure to route the harness through the slots that are at or slightly below your baby's shoulders. The harness should be snug, and the chest clip should be at chest/armpit level.
A certified child passenger safety technician can check your installation and answer questions. To find a technician or an inspection station near you, go to www.seatcheck.org. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is another good source of information on child restraints. Go to www.safercar.gov/therightseat for more tips.
Forward-facing child restraint: Forward-facing harness-equipped restraints provide excellent protection when used properly. Children can ride in these seats from about age 1 to 7 years. Keep children in forward-facing restraints for as long as possible, up to the height and weight limit of the child restraint. Some forward-facing seats have weight limits as high as 80 pounds.
Route the harness through the slots at or slightly above your child's shoulders. The harness needs to be snug, and the chest clip must be at chest/armpit level.
Booster seat: Kids too big for child restraints should use belt-positioning booster seats until adult belts fit right. For some children, that's not until about age 12. Boosters lift up kids so belts designed for adults fit better. They come in three basic designs: highbacks with built-in guides to route shoulder and lap belts, backless with lap belt guides and clips to help position shoulder belts, and boosters that are built-in to vehicle back seats.
Some boosters provide better belt fit than others. The shoulder belt should fit snug across the center of the shoulder and not across the neck or face or slipping off the shoulder. The lap belt should lie flat across the upper thighs and not on the tummy.
The Institute's booster ratings help parents find boosters with the best lap and shoulder belt fit. Boosters are rated BEST BET, GOOD BET, Check fit or Not recommended.
Safety belts: To use safety belts, NHTSA recommends that children should be tall enough to sit without slouching, keep their back against the seat, keep their knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat and keep their feet flat on the floor. Plus, the shoulder belt should fit snuggly across the center of the shoulder, and the lap belt should lie flat across the upper thighs.
Once tweens or teens graduate to adult belts, remember proper use. Don't let kids put the shoulder belt behind their back or under an arm, where it provides no protection at all. Make sure older children, just like younger ones, ride restrained in back at least through age 12.
Consult your owner's manual to see if your vehicle has LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). Use either the LATCH lower anchors or a safety belt to secure your child restraint. If done correctly, either installation will keep your child safe.
With LATCH, child restraints have attachments that connect to lower anchors in the vehicle seat bight where the top and bottom cushions meet. This makes it easier to attach them securely. Top tethers should be used whenever a child restraint is installed forward-facing. Attach the tether strap on the child restraint to a tether anchor in the vehicle. It's usually behind the vehicle seat. Tethers reduce child restraint tilting in frontal crashes and should be used with either the vehicle safety belt or the lower LATCH anchors.
Many vehicles don't have LATCH in the rear middle seating position. If this is the case, use the vehicle lap/shoulder belt and, if the child restraint is used forward-facing, also the top tether to secure the seat. Consult the owner's manuals for your car and child restraint to see if it's OK to use the lower anchors in the adjacent seating positions to secure a child restraint in the middle seat.
Installation can be tricky, even with LATCH. Before buying a child restraint, try it out in the vehicle you intend to use to make sure it fits properly. You may discover that some child seats are too bulky to position in some smaller vehicles.
Airbags have saved thousands of lives, and today's designs are much safer for children than earlier ones. Still, an inflating airbag could hurt or kill children younger than 13 in the front seat, particularly infants in rear-facing restraints. That's why it is important for all kids to sit in back.
The risk of injury from a side airbag in rear seats is extremely low for properly restrained and positioned children or adults. Still, tell kids not to lean against the doors because the airbag's initial deployment force might hurt them.
Vehicle size and weight matter. So do crash avoidance features and crashworthiness ratings. Smaller, lighter vehicles generally offer less protection than larger, heavier ones. Look for vehicles that earn IIHS Top Safety Pick+ or Top Safety Pick, plus at least 4 of 5 stars from NHTSA.
Before backing out of your driveway or a parking spot, make sure you have full view of any nearby children. It is a good idea to roll down windows to help hear them, too. Young kids are most at risk of being killed in backover crashes because it is hard to spot them when they are close to the vehicle. This is especially true if you drive a high-riding vehicle like a pickup or SUV.
On the road, make sure kids don't remove their safety belts or unhook their child seat harness. Make a rule that the vehicle doesn't move unless everyone is buckled up and sitting upright.
Power windows can be dangerous. Sometimes kids unintentionally trigger a power window, trapping hands, fingers, arms or even a child's head. Many times injuries or even death happen because children were left unsupervised. There have been cases in which an adult unknowingly trapped a child when closing a window. Children should never be left alone in a vehicle, even for a minute.
Heatstroke is a serious risk. A child can quickly die in a closed car, even in cool weather. The temperature inside your car can rise nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. That danger is why heatstroke is the leading cause of a noncrash vehicle fatality for children 14 and younger, NHTSA says. Although many cases involve a parent or caregiver who forgets a child in the back seat, oftentimes, children get into unlocked vehicles themselves. Check the back seat every time you park your car and keep doors locked so children can't climb into cars to play. Visit safercar.gov/heatstroke for more information.
Learn more by watching our video, Keeping Children Safe in Crashes.
©1996-2013, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
Subscribe to news updates
Watch our channel
Mobile ratings & news