Car accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and can result in serious injury or death. Children are especially vulnerable in the event of a crash. In 2011, more than 650 children died and 148,000 were injured in car crashes.
Studies have shown that proper use of a car seat can help reduce the risk of death to infants by 71% and to toddlers by 54%. Using a booster seat can help reduce the risk of serious injury to young children by 45%. In spite of these statistics, one study has found that nearly three quarters of car and booster seats are used improperly, increasing the risk of injury to a child during an accident.
In order to reduce the risk of injury, children should use a safety seat that is appropriate for their height and weight. It is also important that the safety seat is correctly installed and used.
Choosing a Safety Seat
There are three major categories of car seats: rear-facing seats, forward-facing seats, and booster seats.
Rear-facing seats are for infants and newborns. Children should ride in rear-facing seats for as long as possible, until they reach the seat’s maximum height and weight limits. When a child outgrows the rear-facing seat, he or she can sit in a forward-facing seat. When a child weighs 40 pounds, he or she can begin using a booster seat. At the age of eight, the child can start using an adult seat belt without the aid of a booster seat.
Car seats come with a number of different straps, like a five-point harness, a plastic tray bar, or a T-shaped shield. Of these, five-point harnesses are the safest as they distribute the force of a crash to the strongest parts of a child’s body. Plastic tray bars and T-shaped shields distribute the force of a crash to a child’s stomach. Five-point harnesses are also more adjustable and thus more comfortable for children.
Seats that are equipped with a two-piece retainer clip are preferred, because they make it difficult for a child to unfasten the belt and climb out of the seat by himself or herself.
Installing a Car Seat
Once the type of seat has been determined, the seat must be installed into the vehicle using the seat belt or the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. Owner’s manuals provide helpful and important information as to where the car seat should go and how it should be installed. Here in Virginia, some local fire departments will inspect car seats, free of charge, to ensure that they have been installed correctly.
Accidents can happen anywhere, and at any time. Choosing the right car seat, and installing it correctly, can help to minimize your child’s chance of being injured if they are involved in an accident.
About The Author: Bridget Long is a personal injury attorney with the Allen Law Firm. She currently serves as the managing attorney for the Petersburg Office. Bridget has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" by Virginia Super Lawyers Magazine since 2008.
 Child Passenger Safety: Get the Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Sept. 12, 2014), www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/child_passenger_safety/cps-factsheet.html
 Tatiana Mahoney, 8 Tips for Choosing a Child’s Car Seat, Parents.com, www.parents.com/baby/safety/car/8-tips-for-choosing-a-childs-car-seat/