Car Seats 101

As a parent, you do everything in your power to keep your children safe. That includes taking precautions like removing potentially dangerous objects from your home, being careful about the toys and food you buy for them, and making sure they’re always in the company of trusted family members and friends.

But one risk factor that should never be overlooked is car accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 663 children 12 years old or younger were killed in car accidents in 2015, and more than 120,000 were injured in 2014. In fact, auto accidents are the leading cause of death for children.

Car Accidents Are Unpredictable, but Restraints Save Lives

Safe driving and always following traffic laws can help reduce the risks that your children face when you head out on the roadway, but those efforts can’t eliminate the chance that you’ll be involved in a crash. Drunk, aggressive, and negligent drivers can cause life-changing and life-threatening car accidents in a split-second, and it’s important that both you and your children are well-protected and well-prepared for that possibility.

As an adult, your best form of protection is your vehicle’s seat belts and airbags. But ordinary seat belts aren’t enough to protect small children. Instead, they must be properly restrained based on their age and size in car seats or booster seats.

The Right Car Seat Makes all the Difference

Car seats aren’t one size fits all. A car seat that’s appropriate for a 1-year-old child isn’t right for a 3-year-old child. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration breaks down car seats and child restraints into four unique categories:

  • Rear-facing car seats – These car seats are designed for infants from birth to 12 months. There are three types of rear-facing car seats:
    • Infant car seats—Designed for newborns and infants, these are the smallest car seats and are usually outgrown by 12 months.
    • Convertible seats—These seats can change from rear-facing to forward-facing.
    • All-in-one seats—These seats can change from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster seats to accommodate children for many years as they age and grow.
  • Forward-facing car seats – These car seats are traditional car seats that utilize harnesses and tethers and are suitable for children 12 months to 3 years old. There are three main types of forward-facing car seats:
    • Convertible seats—Convertible seats can change from rear-facing seats to forward-facing seats with harness and tethers.
    • Combination seats—Combination seats can change from forward-facing car seats with harnesses and tethers to standard booster seats.
  • Booster seats – Booster seats are designed for children anywhere from 3 years old up to pre-adolescence. Like rear-facing and forward-facing car seats, booster seats should always be placed in the backseats of vehicles. There are two main types of booster seats to choose from:
    • Booster seats with high back—Designed to raise your child in your vehicle so that the seat belt fits better, these booster seats also provide neck and head support and should be used in vehicles that lack head rests or seat backs.
    • Backless booster seats—While this seat also raises your child to better fit your vehicle’s seat belts, it doesn’t provide head or neck support and should be used in vehicles that are equipped with backseat head rests.
  • Seat belts – Children can transition out of booster seats and into standard seating with seat belts when they’re big enough for seat belts to fit properly. That means seat belts fit snugly across their upper thighs—not their stomachs—and shoulder belts fit snugly across their shoulders and chests—not their necks.

Children should continue to ride in the backseats of vehicles until they’re at least 13 years old, regardless of the type of car seat or booster seat they use.

Car Seat Installation and Safety Tips

To keep your children as safe as possible, it’s important to make sure their car seats aren’t just the right size and type for their age, but also that they’re properly installed. Verify your child’s height and weight before purchasing a new car seat, and make sure it will fit inside your vehicle. If the car seat is too big, choose another one, as it may be less effective if it can’t be secured normally.

In addition, you should also follow all the manufacturer’s instructions when assembling the car seat or placing it in your vehicle. The NHTSA reports that nearly 60 percent of all car seats in the U.S. are installed incorrectly. It offers several tips for car seat installation, including:

  • Use the lower anchors on the car seat or a seat belt to lock it in place. Car seats aren’t effective if they’re prone to sliding or moving around while a vehicle is in operation. They should be held securely, even in the event of crash, to provide maximum protection.
  • Take advantage of car seat inspection or installation services. If you’re unsure whether your child’s car seat is properly installed, there are a few options you can take advantage of. The NHTSA offers a car seat inspection service, and many local police departments in Nashville and throughout Middle Tennessee also offer car seat inspection days on weekends throughout the year.
  • Replace car seats immediately if they sustain damage. Car seats are at their most effective when they’re undamaged. If your vehicle is involved in a moderate to severe accident and your child’s car seat sustains damage, replace it right away, as it may be less effective in subsequent accidents.

Car Seat Frequently Asked Questions

Because car seats are so important when it comes to child safety in vehicles, it’s understandable that many parents have many questions about their usage and best practices. According to carseat.org, a few common questions regarding car seats and booster seats include:

  1. Can clothing interfere with a car seat’s effectiveness? It’s best to dress children in thinner layers before placing them in car seats. Bulky jackets or coats can make it difficult for harnesses to hold children in place, and they can compress during accidents, allowing excessive movement or even ejection.
  2. Are there any methods for determining if a car seat is properly installed? To test a rear-facing car seat, grasp it near its belt path and pull it away from the vehicle seat and from side to side after installation. The car seat shouldn’t move more than around one inch in any direction. Perform the same test with forward-facing car seats with the addition of grasping them from the top. If your rear- or front-facing car seat is loose, re-attempt the installation process and consult the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Are car seats required on planes? No, but the Federal Aviation Administration recommends using car seats for small children during air travel. Standard airplane seats and seat belts aren’t sufficient to protect children during turbulence or emergency landings, and car seats provide much greater levels of protection and restraint.

Were You or Your Child Injured in an Auto Accident? We’re Here to Help.

At Matt Hardin Law, our Nashville auto accident lawyers know how effective seat belts and age-appropriate car seats can be for vehicle occupants. In fact, they’re one of the biggest differences between minor injuries and life-threatening injuries.

Despite their effectiveness, many Tennesseans of all ages suffer critical injuries every day because of negligent drivers. Our legal team has assisted victims and their families for more than 30 years, and we know what it takes to build strong legal claims that get results. When you contact us, we’ll begin collecting evidence to help you get maximum compensation for your or your loved one’s injuries.

Give us a call today at (615) 200-1111 or complete a free online consultation form. We’re ready to put our experience to work for you.

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