As the parent of two small children who use child safety seats, I am very concerned about their safety when riding in a motor vehicle.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Sadly, many of these deaths can be prevented. Studies have shown that placing our children in appropriate car and booster seats for their age and size can reduce the chances of serious and fatal injuries by more than 50%. In an effort to increase safety for children in vehicles, a national medical group and a federal agency are offering new advice which will change the way we buckle up our kids.
On March 21, 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a physician’s advocacy group dedicated to the promotion of healthcare standards for children, released the following guidelines which contain new recommendations:
– all infants and toddlers should be placed in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height/weight for their car seat.
– all children age 2 or older, or those younger than age 2 who have outgrown their rear-facing height/weight limit for their car seat, should use a forward facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest height/weight allowed for their car seat.
– most children will need to ride in a booster seat until they have reached a height of 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between ages 8 and 12.
– children old and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone should use both lap and shoulder seat belts.
– all children younger than age 13 should be seated/restrained in the rear of vehicles.
The previous AAP policy, dating back to 2002, advised rear-facing up to the limits of the car seat, but it also cited age 1 and 20 pounds as the minimum. As a result, most parents celebrated a child’s first birthday by switching the seat from rear to front facing. Now, the AAP is recommending that children remain in rear-facing seats until age 2 or at least until they outgrow their car seat.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also issued separate new recommendations on March 21, 2011, which are fairly consistent with the AAP guidelines. The NHTSA recommends the following:
Birth – 12 months: Your child under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.
There are different types of rear-facing car seats: Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.
1 – 3 years Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It is the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.
4 – 7 years Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward facing car seat with harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.
8 – 12 years Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: your child should still ride in the back seat because it is safer there.
Both the AAP and NHTSA appear to have revised their guidelines to keep pace with the latest scientific and medical research as well as the development of the new child restraint technologies. The benefits of child safety seats are obvious. They reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years. *5 Booster seats reduce the risk of non-fatal injury among children between 4 and 8 years old by 45% compared with seatbelts. So remember, it is not enough to simply “buckle-up” your children in a child seat. The equipment you use and the manner in which you use it are just as important.
About the Author: Fredericksburg car accident attorney David Williams has focused his legal career almost exclusively on personal injury law and wrongful death cases. David is also a defective products lawyer in Fredericksburg. He has successfully argued cases before the Virginia Supreme Court.
 CDC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System [online]. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). Available from URL: www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars. [2008 May 5]
 Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2006: Children. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2008. [cited 2008 May 5]. Available from URL: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2005/810618.pdf
 Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academcy of Pediatrics, Policy Statement Child Passenger Safety, Page 789, published online March 21, 2011.
 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Press Release – March 21, 2011.
 Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Traffic Safety Facts 2006: Children. Washington (DC); NHTSA; 2008.
Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Policy Statement Child Passenger Safety, page 788, published online March 24, 2011.