Each year thousands of children are injured or killed in motor vehicle collisions, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Proper use of car safety seats reduces the risk of injury to children in motor vehicle crashes. The AAP has recommendations for selecting and using car safety seats, but Virginia law also has requirements for the use of child safety seats that you should know.
According to the AAP, recent research shows that todders are more than five times safer riding in rear-facing car seats up to the age of two. The AAP recommends that all infants ride rear-facing car in either infant seats or convertible seats. If a rear-facing infant seat is used, the child should be switched to a rear-facing convertible seat once the infant reaches the maximum height and weight for the infant seat as suggested by manufacturer. A child should ride in a rear-facing convertible car seat until she is at least two years old, or until she has reached the maximum height and weight recommended for the car seat model.
When a child has reached the age of two, or the highest height and weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer for the rear-facing convertible seat, the child can ride in a forward-facing seat. The child should ride in a forward-facing seat, with a harness, until he or she outgrows the seat, usually when the child is around four years old and weighs 40-65 pounds.
School-aged children who have outgrown their car safety seats should use booster seats. Booster seats raise the child up so that the shoulder and lap belt fit the child properly. Since vehicle seat belts are made for adults, the AAP recommends that a child stay in a booster seat until the adult seat belt fits correctly, usually when the child is about 4’9″ and is between 8 and 12 years old. An adult seat belt fits correctly when the shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, and the lap belt should lies low and snug across the upper thighs.
The AAP’s “Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families 2009” pamphlet has tips for families on choosing and installing infant car seats and child safety seats correctly, as well as answers to a number of frequently asked questions. The Guide can be found at www.aap.org/family/carseatguide.htm.
Virginia’s Child Safety Seat Law requires that any person transporting a child up to eight years of age must properly secure the child with an approved child restraint device. These devices – safety seats – must meet standards adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Rear-facing safety seats must be placed in the back seat of a vehicle. If a vehicle does not have a back seat, the safety seat may be placed in the front passenger seat only if the vehicle is not equipped with a passenger side airbag or the airbag has been deactivated. Anyone transporting a child age between the ages of eight and 16 must ensure that the child is properly secured by an appropriate safety belt system. There are exceptions for taxicabs, school buses, executive sedans, and limousines. See Va. Code sec. 46.2-1095 through 46.2-1100; see description at Virginia Department of Health website at www.vahealth.org/Injury/safetyseat/guidelines.htm.
The Virginia Department of Health, Division of Injury and Violence Protection offers assistance programs for low-income Virginia residents who cannot afford safety seats. Call 1-800-732-8333 for more information.