Leave your cell phone at home? Pour orange juice instead of milk into your cereal? Mornings can be a hectic time for families with young children. We try to set routines, but there are those days we forget about that last curler in our hair or put our shirt on inside out. It can sometimes be so crazy that we forget to put child passenger safety first.
Of course, as a parent, you want your child to be always safe. After all, motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the U.S. says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and many could have been prevented. So, knowing child car safety guidelines could be life-saving.
At Direct Auto Insurance, we take safe driving seriously, especially when it comes to driving with kids. With the proper safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt and knowing key safety tips for driving with children, you can better protect your precious cargo. From how to choose a car seat to when to switch to a booster, and everything in between, here are some helpful tips for keeping your child safe in the car at every age.
Child Passenger Safety Laws
Every state has child safety seat laws related to child passenger safety in vehicles, though requirements vary by age, weight, height, and state. Many laws require that children ride in the rear seat whenever possible. After a child reaches a particular age, height, or weight, most states will permit children to use an adult safety belt. Failing to comply with a state’s child passenger safety laws could result in a fine of up to $500 and, in some states, you could receive driver’s license points as an additional penalty (and points are not something you want on your driving record).
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, all 50 states require booster seats for children who have outgrown their car seat but are still too small to safely wear an adult seat belt. 23 states require children under the age of two must be in a rear-facing child safety seat. Read up on your state’s child passenger safety laws in your state so you’re not caught off guard!
General Safety Tips When Driving with Kids
- Don’t forget them in the back seat! Make it a habit to look for your child before you lock the car. Mobile phone apps, like Kars 4 Kids, will alert you when you leave your car to remember that there’s a baby in the backseat. The free navigation app, Waze, can also alert you to remember that someone’s in the back, even a pet! Putting your purse, computer bag, etc. in the back seat is another easy trick.
- Keep them buckled up. Of the children ages 12 years and younger who died in a crash in 2014, 34% were not buckled up, reports the CDC.
- Wear your seat belt too! Set a good example by wearing your seat belt.
Child Car Seat Safety Tips
When buying a car seat for children…
Take the time to brush up on your car seat safety knowledge now and during Child Passenger Safety Week. Find out if there are any recalls on your car seat, get it safety checked at one of your local fire stations, or look up an inspection station location online.
Track your child’s height and weight.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends selecting a car seat based on your child’s age, weight, and height. Generally, children under the age of 3 years old should sit in rear-facing car seats. Forward-facing car seats should be used up to age 7. And booster seats should be used for children between the ages of 8 and 12 — or until they are big enough to fit the seat belt properly. Use the NHTSA’s “Car Seat Finder” to find the right car seat for your child’s size.
Car Seat Ages: The Basics
Familiarize yourself with the basic stages of safe seating. Simply using the correct car seat or booster seat could turn out to be a lifesaver.
From birth up to age 2…use a rear-facing car seat and install it in the back seat. (Unless your child reaches the upper weight or height limits for that particular seat, which you can check on the seat’s owner’s manual or tags.)
From age 2 to at least age 5…use a forward-facing car seat and install it in the back seat. (The same guideline about your child’s height and weight applies here. If they outgrow the seat before the age of 5, it’s okay to advance to the next seat.)
From age 5 until a seat belt fits properly…use a booster seat and install it in the back seat. A booster seat “boosts” your child high enough so that the car’s lap and shoulder belt restrains him or her properly. Without a booster seat, a child could actually be injured by a poorly fitting adult seat belt in the event of a crash, rather than protected by it.
Once a seat belt fits properly without a booster…buckle them up in the back seat! How can you tell if a seat belt fits correctly? The lap belt should lay across the upper thighs, not the stomach, and the shoulder belt should lay across the chest, not the neck.
Did you know? The safest spot in your vehicle is in the middle of the back seat. When possible, seat your child here.
Even though you may have your child in the right seat for their height and weight, you may not be using it properly. The CDC estimates that 46% of car and booster seats are misused in a way that could reduce their effectiveness.
Most, if not all fire stations will install your child’s car seat for you, completely free of charge. There’s actually such a thing as “child car seat inspection stations,” too, with certified technicians who are trained to educate parents and caretakers on the proper installation and use of car seats. To get your current car seat inspected or to learn how to properly install one yourself, visit SaferCar.gov to find a child car seat inspection station near you!
Decide on a model.
While height and weight determine the appropriate child passenger restraints, there are still other things to consider when choosing a car seat type. For example:
- Rear-facing infant car seats can snap onto a stroller or be used as an infant carrier, meaning you don’t have to risk waking your sleeping baby by transferring him or her to a separate carrier.
- Convertible car seats that transform from rear-facing to forward-facing could save you money in the long run because they can be used from birth through toddlerhood. However, the downside is that they aren’t portable like an infant seat.
- All-in-one car seats also change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat, but with the bonus of converting to a booster seat as well (potentially saving you more money).
- Forward-facing combination car seats that transform into a booster could be used when your child outgrows a rear-facing seat.
- Booster car seats, either backless or with a high back, can be purchased separately if the car seat you already own doesn’t transform into one.
Test for comfort.
A comfortable seat can make all the difference as you transport your child to the grocery store, to daycare, on vacation, and everywhere else. Check if the material and padding feel squishy, soft, and cozy. Look for a seat with an insert that supports your child’s head. Make sure the car seat’s straps are well-fitting and tight enough. And if the seat transforms into a carrier, make sure it’s not too heavy for you to carry.
Read the child-safety sections of your vehicle owner’s manual, including recommended tips and warnings, and information on features, like Automatic Locking Retractor (ALR) mode, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), and using the child restraint systems. You may discover things you didn’t know! For example, manuals often explain how sunny weather could make seatbelts too hot for a small child, that safety seats should not be placed in the front passenger seat, and that a child should not sit in the lap of a front-seat passenger.
Choose a store that accepts returns.
Every car seat is different, and some may fit better in your car than others. Avoid getting stuck with one that’s not right for you by choosing a retail store that allows returns, or the option to test-install a seat. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Test a few car seats out until you find one that fits your car well, and your child comfortably.
Check the expiration date.
If a trusted friend or relative gives you a car seat, make sure you check the expiration date. Car seats are typically good for about six years until the plastic becomes brittle and a safety hazard. Look for the expiration date on the seat or in the owner’s manual. If the seat is expired, it’s time to buy a new one.
Schedule a car seat installation.
Got a car seat, but aren’t sure how to install it — or wondering if you put it in right? Visit NHTSA online to have your car seat inspected by a certified car seat safety technician for free! They even offer Spanish-speaking technicians. Simply enter your zip code for a list of results near you that may include your local fire department, police station, or Child Passenger Safety Center. On National Seat Check Saturday (September 29, 2018), during Child Passenger Safety Week (September 23-29, 2018), certified child passenger safety technicians are available at car seat events nationwide to provide safety tips and car seat installation instructions to parents and caregivers. Or, find child passenger safety technicians in your area through the National Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Certification Program.
Register the seat.
It’s important to register your car seat so that you’ll be notified of any recalls or product updates that pertain to the seat. If you don’t register it, you may not know the car seat has been recalled! Use the information sticker found on your car seat to register it online with the manufacturer or mail the registration card that came with it. You can also sign up with the NHTSA to receive email alerts about car seat and booster seat recalls.
Direct Auto Insurance understands that even if you pass the car seat safety test, car accidents can happen anytime. Help protect you and your family with that extra added reassurance on the road. Direct’s Emergency Protection Plan helps cover unexpected costs from a car accident. What’s it worth to you? The price you pay to protect your family with our Emergency Protection Plan is ultimately way more affordable than the price of a car accident. And if you’ve welcomed a baby into your family, you may be considering term life insurance to protect those you love. Let Direct help give you and your family peace of mind. Call 1-877-463-4732 or stop by one of our many locations to learn more.