Every day there are more than 2,600 children involved in automobile accidents. This is the equivalent of one child every 33 seconds. Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 3 and 14. The sad reality is that many of these deaths are preventable. It’s a matter of knowing the best options to keep your child safe should you be involved in an automobile collision.
There are certain recommendations made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that apply to each age group and should be considered prior to putting your child in any vehicle.
From birth to 12 months, a child should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. Infant-only car seats can only be used rear-facing but there are convertible and all-in-one car seats that have higher height and weight limits, making it possible for a child to stay rear facing up to 3 years. Depending upon your child’s height and weight, keep your child rear-facing as long as possible for their safety.
From one year to 3 years old, it’s possible that you already have your child in a forward-facing car seat but, remember, it’s safer if they are rear-facing until as close to age 3 as possible. Regardless of when you move them to a forward-facing car seat, be sure to keep them in a car seat until at least the age of 7.
The forward-facing car seat provides a 5-point harness and tether restraint system that will keep them as safe as possible. The height and weight limits for these car seats are designed for the average child of 7. It may be that smaller 8 year olds can even still fit their car seat and, for their own sake, they should.
Once your child has outgrown their forward-facing car seat then they can graduate to the booster seat. The average child of ages 8-12 will need a booster seat and should remain in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. This would mean that the lap belt would lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, not crossing the neck or face.
While these stages are typically listed by age, the true determining factor is height and weight. Base your child’s transition from one stage to another on the height and weight limit of their current restraint system, not on their age. It is in their best interest.