Riding in an automobile is something most people do every day of their life, but it's something that comes with an undeniable risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the leading causes of death for children is car accidents. However, the CDC also notes that a great number of these incidents can be prevented. The proper use of car seats for infants and children reduces the risk of death by 71% to 82%. The use of booster seats for children aged 4-8, reduces the risk of serious injury by 45%, as compared with the use of a seat belt alone. And the use of seat belts for older children reduces the risk of serious injury and death by 50%.
The CDC notes that child restraint systems are often used improperly, sometimes in such a way that they actually increased the risk of injury to a child. Additionally, many parents think that they are using the correct car seat for their child but actually are not. According to the CDC, restraint status was known for 549 of the 607 child passenger vehicle occupants ages 12 and younger who were killed in crashes in 2020. Among the 549 child passengers for which restraint status was known, 211 (38%) were unrestrained.
The CDC recommends:
- Use the correct car seat, booster seat or seat belt for your children. Which option is appropriate will depend on the child's age, height, and weight.
- Use the proper restraint system every time the child is in the vehicle, regardless of how short the trip is.
- Always have children sit in the back seat. The middle of the back seat is also the safest place in the car.
- Never seat children in front of an airbag.
- Use a rear-facing car seat for infants under the age of two.
- Use a forward facing car seat for children ages two to five.
- For children five and up, use a booster seat until a seat belt fits them properly. Seat belts should fit so that the lap belt lays across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt lays across the chest.
- When the seat belt fits properly without the child sitting in a booster seat, have the child use a seat belt.
- Make sure you install and use the car and booster seats correctly. If you need help, there are certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians who can assist you. The National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program has a car seat checklist for how to prepare for meeting with a CPS Technician, and what to do during the car seat checkup.
- Be a role model for children and always wear a seat belt.
State by State Requirements
All fifty states and the District of Columbia have laws addressing child seats. Each state may have different requirements for car seats, booster seats and seat belts, so it's important to know what your particular state's requirements are. For example, the age at which children must be in a child restraint or a booster seat can vary from four years old and younger in South Dakota, to eight and younger in Wyoming. Some states do not indicate a preference for using the rear seat, while some require certain ages to be in the back seat.
Enforcement provisions and fines can also vary from state to state. Some states have primary enforcement laws, meaning drivers can be stopped merely for the child seat violations. Some have secondary enforcement laws, meaning there must be an additional reason to stop the vehicle, although these mainly apply to seat belt laws for older children, as opposed to child restraint laws.
The consequences for failing to use or improperly using car seats are significant, as the CDC statistics bear out. Additionally, if your child is hurt in a car accident, your failure to properly secure them may affect your ability to recover any damages for their injuries.
Consider Seeking Legal Help With Your Car Accident Claim
Few things are more upsetting to a parent than to see their child get seriously injured or killed in an automobile accident. Often, there are numerous factors at play, including the actions of other drivers as well as the use of safety equipment (such as child's safety restraints). Sometimes, parents can be held liable for not properly securing their child. If you need help, contact an experienced injury attorney near you today.