How Should Children be Secured in Vehicles: Tips from the NHTSA

Children are our most valuable resource and it is imperative to keep them safe from harm. Tragically, many young children are killed in traffic accidents because their parents or guardians did not secure them properly. Even though newer vehicles are being manufactured with enhanced safety features such as side impact air bags, backup cameras, and anti-pinch automatic windows, it remains critical to ensure that young children are properly restrained in appropriate child seating.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, in 2016 alone, 238 children younger than age four were killed in automobile crashes. Of these, 79% were restrained. Among children aged four to seven, 223 were killed in vehicle accidents with 67% of them restrained. This data suggests that even though efforts are made to restrain children in the vehicle, perhaps they were not as safe as they could have been due to improperly installed car seats.

Child safety seats require proper installation to do their job. Every car seat must be installed using either child safety seat lower anchors or seat belts, depending on the vehicle. For older vehicles without anchors, check your vehicle owner’s manual for directions on how to properly lock the seat belt. Because every car and car seat are different, it is imperative to follow all instructions. If you have any problems, there are several agencies available to help ensure your child is as safe as possible while riding in the car.

Types of child car seats

There are three broad types of child car seats: rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster. While some are specifically designed for one function, others are created to accommodate the child as s/he grows.

Infant-only car seats are small, portable seats that parents can also use to transport the very young child.

Forward-facing-only seats are equipped with a harness and tether and are for children who have outgrown the rear-facing infant car seat.

Convertible car seats can transition from rear-facing to forward facing as the child grows.

Combination seats combine the front-facing car seat with a booster.

Booster seats with a back are designed to “boost” the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly.

Backless booster seats perform the same function as other booster seats; however, they do not provide neck and head support and are only for vehicles that are equipped with higher backs and head restraints.

All-in-one seats convert from an infant rear-facing seat to a front-facing seat to a booster seat.

Local resources and tips

South Carolina takes child safety seriously. Its Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Child Passenger Safety Program was created to “prevent and reduce injuries, disabilities and death to children due to motor vehicle crashes” by providing education and counseling for parents and community groups on child passenger safety, offering technical assistance, demonstrating and instructing how to properly install the different types of child safety seats, explaining the potential dangers for unrestrained children involved in an accident, and disseminating other information regarding child passenger safety issues.

The DHEC also provides tips to improve child passenger safety which are based on American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines. These include:

  • Ensuring that infants and toddlers under two years of age who haven’t reached the maximum height and weight limit for a particular seat are in rear-facing car seats
  • Keeping your child in a car safety seat with a harness until at least the age of four
  • Using booster seats for children under age eight
  • Not letting children under the age of 13 ride in the front seat
  • Ensuring older children remain in booster seats until a seat belt fits them properly
  • Once a child can keep his/her back against the vehicle seat, bend their knees over the seat’s edge, and can keep their feet flat on the floor, s/he is old enough to bypass the booster seat.

Keeping your child safe in the vehicle isn’t difficult, but it does require knowledge of how to properly restrain them.

The information you obtain in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should not read this article to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken to you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice in the jurisdiction in which you may have a case.