Car seats save lives

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, motor vehicles crashes are a leading cause of deaths for children. But, one of easiest ways prevent your child from becoming a scary statistic is the proper use of car seats and booster seats.

When used correctly, child safety seats can reduce the chance of a deadly injury from a car accident by up to 71% for infants and 51% for kids up to age 4.

Most car seats and booster seats come with a comprehensive user’s manual on how to install and maintain the safety seat, but many parents are still left feeling confused. These facts will help you better understand how child safety seats work and how to keep your child safe while riding in one.

1. More than 50% of parents don’t use the tether when installing their child’s car seat.

The tether is the strap that attaches at the top to the back of your child’s forward-facing car seat. It attaches to something called a tether anchor in your vehicle. Your car seat’s tether helps hold your child’s seat more securely in place, and when done correctly, can prevent up to eight inches of forward movement during an accident.

If you drive an older model car that doesn’t come with factory tether anchors, you can typically have them retrofitted at the dealership. And, if you’re unsure how to attach the tether to its anchor, review the owner’s manual.

You can also schedule an appointment for a free child safety seat inspection at one of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety locations to be sure that your child’s car seat has been installed correctly.

2. Car seats have an expiration date.

Over time, materials on car seats wear down, making them less safe. Most car seats have a sticker that tells you how long your car seat is safe to use. Take note of when your child’s seat will expire. This is especially important if you child uses a hand-me-down car seat.

3. If your car seat is involved in a crash, even a minor one, the seat may need to be replaced. Always to refer to your owner's manual, even if there's no visible damage to the seat.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) if you were in a minor car accident and:

  • You could drive away from the accident.
  • The door nearest to the car seat was undamaged.
  • The airbags did not deploy.
  • The car seat was not visibly damaged.
  • No one was injured.

Then your car seat should still be safe to use.

Although, for a car accident to be considered minor, all the NHSTA’s criteria must be met. A moderate to severe crash can cause structural damage to your child’s car seat—even if you can’t see it. Car seats involved in moderate to severe crashes should be replaced.

4. According to the newest safety recommendations, your toddler should remain in a rear-facing seat until about age 4.

In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as well as the NHTSA updated their car seat safety recommendations, advising parents to keep all children in a rear-facing car seats until they’ve reached the maximum height and weight for the specific seat. For most children that’s about age 4.

The longer you can keep your child rear-facing, the better, because it's the best way to protect your child's neck and spinal cord in an accident.

5. Once installed, you shouldn’t be able to move the seat more than an inch in any direction (front or back, side to side).

If you can move the car seat more than one inch in either direction, the car seat hasn’t been correctly installed, or it’s too loose to be safe and effective for your child.

6. A whopping 73% of car seats are installed incorrectly.

Car seats are tricky, and installing them can be tedious. But, it’s critical that your child be safe while riding in the car. If you’re having trouble installing the seat, double-check the manufacturer’s instructions. And just to be on the safe side, consider going to get a free safety check.

7. It’s unsafe to put your child in a car seat wearing bulky coats, jackets or other clothes.

Bulky clothing creates too much give in the car seat’s straps, making it fit more loosely than it should. If it’s cold out, put your child in the car seat in normal, seasonal clothes, minus bulky outwear. You can then snuggle her in a blanket after she’s been buckled in her seat securely.

A good rule of thumb is that your child should be strapped in tightly enough that if the car seat was upside down (like in a rollover accident), she would not be able to fall out of the car seat.

8. Children as old as 8 should still ride in a booster seat.

It may seem like 8-year-olds should be big enough to ride without a safety seat, but they’re actually still the best way to keep kids safe while riding. A booster seat helps position the seat belt correctly, across the child’s hips.

Children should remain in a booster until they reach 4’9” (that’s usually when kids are between 8 and 12 years old). And all children younger than 13 should sit in the back seat if possible, to reduce the risk of serious injury.

This content has been clinically reviewed by Maneesha Agarwal, MD.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.