Looking Back: Car Seat Safety
By Kristine Sawyer, MD – Enterprise Pediatric Clinic
Car accidents are the leading cause of death in children over 1. In 2019, 1,053 children under 14 died in a car accident. Of these, 38 percent were not properly restrained with car seats, booster seats, or seat belts. Being aware of car seat requirements and ensuring you place your child in a properly-installed car seat can prevent death or serious injury in an accident.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all infants ride rear facing in the backseat in an infant or convertible car safety seat until they outgrow the height and weight restrictions. This should be until at least 2 years old for most toddlers, but some convertible seats can support up to 65 pounds. A rear-facing car seat protects against head and neck injury by taking the force of impact; when riding forward facing, the child’s head and neck are thrown forward, which can result in serious injuries.
Children can be switched to a forward-facing seat with a harness after they outgrow the rear-facing seat. Children should remain in a car seat until they outgrow the height and weight requirements and, according to Alabama state law, until age 5 or they weigh at least 40 pounds.
Booster seats are recommended until the child is 4 feet 9 inches tall and is between 9 and 12 years old. Seat belts can be used when the belt fits appropriately across the shoulder and not across the neck. Children under 13 should always ride in the backseat.
The safest place in the car is the back middle seat. The car seat can be installed with seat belts or the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system if your vehicle has this. Often the LATCH system is easier to use, but either method is equally safe. A forward-facing seat should always use the top tether when available. Always use your car seat’s instruction manual for exact directions.
When wearing bulky clothing such as jackets in the wintertime, take off the outer layers prior to placing the child in the car seat. This will keep the straps tight on the child, which is better protection in case of an accident. You should be able to fit two fingers but no more under the strap to ensure it is tight enough. The chest clip should be at armpit level.
Remember to always use the appropriate restraint for your child to help protect your family in the unfortunate event of a car accident.