The AAP recently released new car safety guidelines for kids. The number one killer of our children over 4 years of age is vehicle crashes. These new guidelines are based on safety data and research about how to keep our kids safe. They are not meant to keep kids happy. They will be hard to enforce at the beginning, but it’s worth it to keep our kids alive! Once kids know this is not negotiable, the fighting will decrease. Spread the word to your friends with kids so yours don’t feel like they’re the only ones who must stay in a safety seat. Plus you might save a life!
A big thank you to Molly Blair for the colorful photos!
General car safety tips
Car seat choice and maintenance
- The best seat is not necessarily the most expensive. Choose a seat that fits your child and your car.
- Car seats expire. Write when your seats are close to expiring on your calendar.
- You should not buy a used car seat from anyone you don’t know. It is not possible to verify that it hasn’t been in an accident in this situation.
- Register your car seat so you will be notified in case of recalls.
- If you’re in an accident, your car seats may need to be replaced. Insurance may cover this cost.
- Do not remove the stickers that provide important information, such as the height and weight limits of the seat.
- Always review the size minimum and maximums of your car seat. Make it a habit to check the seat’s limitations after each well visit check to be sure your child’s height and weight still fit in the seat as it is being used.
Car seat use and mis-use
- Bring your child and the car seat to a certified car seat installer with each change in seat and change in vehicle.
- The most common mistake other than installing a seat improperly is to move a child to the next seat too quickly. Keep your child in the seat until they meet the height or weight limit. Each transition (from rear-facing to forward-facing, forward-facing to booster, and booster to lap/shoulder belt) lowers the child’s protection.
- Do not use attachments, such as a head roll, in a seat unless it was tested and sold with your seat.
- Keep bulky clothing and padding out of the car seat. Layer clothing if it’s cold.
- Rear facing allows the head and spine to be protected in case of a crash. It is the safest way to travel. The head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat. They all move together, with little relative movement between body parts.
- When children ride forward-facing, their bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heads can be thrown forward in an accident. This can lead to more spine and head injuries.
Potential problems with following the guidelines
If your child suffers from motion sickness (car sickness) when rear facing, talk to your pediatrician.
Kids will resist many things, including properly buckling up. It is worth it to insist that they’re safe. Try various parenting strategies.
Kids like choices, so offer choices about climbing in or getting put in the seat or if they want to help do the buckle. The choice is never whether or not to ride safely. Find acceptable choices that end with them properly buckled. There are more ideas in 5 Tricks to Get an Uncooperative Toddler Into Their Car Seat.
Older kids can learn about why they need this level of safety seat to remain safe. I know my kids are both shorter than classmates, so it was a regular discussion in my house. They always ended up agreeing that it was necessary when we looked at age-appropriate crash pictures and safety data. (Do an online search to preview sites without your kids so they aren’t exposed to more than they can handle.) I ask kids in my office all the time if I should ride a motorcycle without a helmet – it’s legal in my state. They all say “no” and then seem to comprehend that just because it’s legal doesn’t make it safe.
Summary of 2018 car safety guidelines
Infants through preschool years
Infants should always remain rear facing. Both rear-facing only seats and convertible seats can serve this purpose.
Rear-facing only seats
Rear-facing only seats are convenient because they can be snapped in and out of bases. This allows various drivers to have bases installed in their vehicle and the seat can be used in multiple vehicles.
Rear-facing only seats tend to have lesser weight and height allowances, but as infants become toddlers they do not need a carrying seat. Not to mention the safety issues with carrying a heavy kid in a heavy seat – we don’t need parents to hurt themselves!
Although these infant rear-facing carrying seats can be used to carry infants in and out of buildings to the vehicle, it is not recommended to use them long term outside of the vehicle. They are not approved for overnight sleeping.
Convertible seats are able to be used rear facing until a child outgrows the weight or height maximum.
The minimum weight recommended to turn forward facing is now 40 pounds unless the seat has a lower maximum for rear facing.
This means most toddlers and preschoolers should be staying rear facing.
School aged kids
Convertible seats will accommodate children rear facing until they are 40-90 pounds.
Keep ’em rear facing longer!
The earliest it is now recommended to turn kids forward facing is 40 pounds. I know kids will fight this, but it’s worth it based on the safety studies.
This means that kids who are school aged might still fit best rear facing.
Rear facing is the safest way to travel, and remember that the #1 killer of our kids over 4 years is automobile crashes. Let’s change that and keep kids rear facing longer.
When kids are over the rear-facing maximum of their seat, turn them around, but leave the harness on. There’s a reason race car drivers use a harness and not just a lap and shoulder belt. Harnesses are safer! Use it until your child outgrows the limits of the seat.
Booster seats help keep the lap and shoulder belt positioned properly until a child is tall enough and old enough to not require it. It is generally around 4 foot 9 inches that kids are big enough to sit in most vehicles without a booster. Most kids are not this tall until 10-12 years of age, even though many state laws allow much younger kids to sit without a booster.
Age is not the main factor in deciding when a child should move out of a booster. Use the 5 point test to see if your child fits properly in the vehicle. I always say it’s the size of the child as well as the size of the vehicle’s seat that matters.
Seat belt alone
When kids fit properly in the vehicle’s seat without a booster seat, they still should sit properly.
If your child cannot sit upright in the seat, a booster is still recommended to keep the belt properly positioned.
No one should slide their hips away from the back of the seat to slouch in the seat. This allows the seat belt to ride up onto the abdomen, which increases the risk of injury in a crash.
All children less than 13 years of age should remain in the back seat.
It’s easy to remember that only teens and adults can sit up front.
This is not based only on height or weight. Physical maturity makes a difference as well.
Don’t rush your kids to grow up too soon!