Make sure your child is properly restrained while in your vehicle. (image via Flickr)

It’s hard to remember that there was a time when children rode around in cars completely unencumbered.  No car seats, no booster seats, and much of the time, no seat belts.  It is hard to fathom how that could have been the norm now that we know just how dangerous it can be for children to be unsecured in a collision.  In fact, even now with all the safety measures we have in place, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car accidents are the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 12.  Imagine how much higher than number would be without all the safety precautions we have in place.

While we can all agree that taking the right measures to keep kids safe in cars matters, we don’t always know the best way to keep them safe.  The NHTSA recommends all drivers who have occupants under the age 18 follow these general guidelines.

  1. Pick a car seat that is the right type for your child’s age and that is the right size to fit them.
  2. Pick a car seat that fits in your car and is easy to use so that you will use it every time.
  3. Follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use.
  4. Read the owner’s manual for your car to determine if there are any special features for use with car seats or special practices related to their use.
  5. Don’t let children under the age of 12 sit in the front seat.

The ever changing array of child safety seats and laws that are different in each state, you may be unsure if your child or grandchild is properly secured.  Car seats are specifically designed to keep children of specific ages and sizes safe during a collision.  The basic recommendations are as follows?

Birth to 1 Year – Children in this age group should always ride in a rear facing car seat.  As there can be significant differences in size and weight between infants and children approaching their first birthday, there are different kinds of car seats that enable safe riding in the rear facing position.  You can also get car seats that can grow with your child and can be converted to accommodate rear facing positions and forward facing positions.

Age 1-3 – While it is best to keep your child in the rear-facing position as long as possible, once they reach the height or weight limit for the rear facing seat, they are ready to move up to a forward facing seat.

Age 4-7 – Children should ride in the forward facing seat with a harness until they reach the maximum height or weight limit for their seat.  At that point they can transition to a booster seat.

Age 8-12 – It is best for children to ride in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a regular seat belt properly.  This means that the lap belt fits snugly across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt goes across the chest and shoulders.

For all the ages above, the child should still ride in the backseat as that is the safest place for them to ride.

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