Keep Your Child Safe in the Car

Author: Attorney Courtney Van Winkle

As we walked out of the gym, I could tell my 8 year old was brimming over with excitement. He had just scored his first bucket in his first basketball game with a 10 foot hoop. His 13 year old sister pumped him up even more by telling him she didn't score a basket until the next to last game of her first year. As we walked to the car Matt said, "Hey Mom can I sit in the front seat to celebrate?" Like many parents, I was tempted, but ...

Car accidents are a leading cause of death for young children in the United States. Every year thousands of children are killed or injured in car crashes. As a personal injury lawyer, I know all too well the anguish and devastation brought upon families whose member's lives are changed forever when their children are seriously injured. Every time we get into a vehicle, there are so many factors affecting our welfare that are beyond our control.  The drunk driver.  The texting teen.  The adult preoccupied on the cellphone while driving.  The truck driver who barrels down the highway after driving well over the minimum hours.  These things are beyond our control, but what does lie solely within our control as parents is making sure that our children are properly restrained in the right car seat for their age.  If we make sure of that, then if we do get involved in an automobile collision, our children have the best chance of avoiding serious injury or death.

One of the most important jobs we have as a parent is keeping our children safe when riding in a vehicle. How do we do this? Start with these safety tips:[1]

  • Always use a car seat when transporting an infant or child
  • All children under 12 should ride in the back seat.
  • Keep children in a booster until they are at least 8 years old (unless 4 feet 9 inches or taller)
  • Never allow a child to place a shoulder belt under his arm or behind his back
  • Make sure the shoulder belt fits snugly across the chest and over the shoulder
  • Never secure a child with a lap belt only
  • For Infants (Birth to at least 1 year AND at least 20 pounds) use an Infant Only or a convertible seat in the rear facing position only
  • Be diligent about properly securing a car seat
  • Be diligent about properly choosing a rear facing or forward facing car seat based on the size and age of your child[2]
  • Never try to hold a child in your lap
  • Never allow anyone to share seatbelts
  • Do not use a car seat that has previously been involved in an automobile accident

My son didn't wait for the answer he already knew; he went straight to the backseat.  As I started the car, my mind drifted to my 13 year old sitting next to me, my 15 year old looking forward to getting his learner's permit soon, and my 18 year old out on his own who has been driving for over 2 years now.  I know I can't protect them from all the perils of the road, but I can reduce their risk by an estimated 50 to 83 percent by use of proper restraints in the car[3].  Those are numbers we can't afford to ignore.

About the Author: Courtney Van Winkle is a Richmond car accident attorney with almost 20 years of experience. As a partner with Allen & Allen, Courtney concentrates her practice on accidents involving cars, tractor trailers, brain injury and wrongful death claims.


[1] For more information about appropriate child seats and appropriate use of restraints for children, see http://www.seatcheck.org or toll free at 1-866-SEATCHECK (1-866-732-8243).  Also see "Car Safety Seats: Information for Families for 2010", American Academy of Pediatrics, at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx. (Updated June 2010), and the American Academy of Pediatrics website generally at http://www.aap.org/.

[2] For specific information about use of carseats, see references in footnote 1 above.

[3] See safety statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/.

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