From Car Seat to Seatbelt

Moving too quickly can be dangerous for your child

Too many parents and caregivers are in a hurry to move their child to the next car seat stage, when proper protection is vital. Car crashes remain a leading cause of death for children, but proper use of car and booster seats can reduce a child’s risk of death by up to 71 percent. That’s why it’s so important to use the right seat for your child, install the seat correctly, and make sure the harness or belt fits securely.

That’s a lot to think about, and it’s probably why Child Passenger Safety Technicians find that at least three out of four of seats are installed or used incorrectly. Don’t worry; AAA is here to help guide you every step of the way – whether you’re expecting a new baby or wondering whether to move your 8-year-old out of the booster seat. Follow this guide for the 4 Stages of Car Seat Use.

Stage 1: Rear-Facing for Longer

On Aug. 30, 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced that children should now remain rear-facing as long as possible, until they reach their seat’s upper height and weight limits, rather than until age 2.

Rear-facing seats support a child’s head, neck and spine, which are the most vulnerable parts of the body. Toddlers’ heads are disproportionately large and heavy. When they sit in a forward-facing seat, the harness straps restrain their bodies, but their heads are thrown forward in a crash, increasing the likelihood of spine and head injuries.

“Parents are often concerned their children’s legs will be broken if they remain rear-facing too long, when research and crash data actually prove otherwise,” said Kellie O’Riordan, traffic safety program manager for AAA Ohio Auto Club. “In fact, children are more likely to suffer broken legs in the forward-facing position.”

Data shows rear-facing seats significantly reduce infant and toddler fatalities and injuries in frontal and side-impact crashes. A recent study from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that they are also effective in rear-impact crashes, which account for more than 25 percent of all crashes.

Stage 2: Harnessed Seat

Once they outgrow their rear-facing seats, children should use a forward-facing child safety seat until they reach the maximum weight or height for the harness.

The harness provides five points of protection for your child, versus just three points in a booster seat. Many car seat manufacturers have extended the upper weight limits of the harness to 65 lbs. or more. AAA advises parents to keep children harnessed as long as possible, and not rush to the booster seat.

Stage 3: Booster Seat

Once the child reaches the upper height or weight limits of the harness, it’s time to move to a belt-positioning booster seat. Booster seats are more than twice as effective in reducing risk of injury, compared with seat belts alone, according to a study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They prevent the lap belt from injuring the child’s abdomen, and keep the shoulder belt in proper position to protect their upper body.

There are two types of booster seats: a high-back booster seat and low-back or no-back booster seat. High-back booster seats boost children up and out. If you use a no-back booster seat, make sure to have a head restraint in that sitting position. Either will protect your child, as long as the belt fits correctly.

Stage 4: Seat Belt

Ohio law says children should remain in a booster seat until they are 8 years old, unless they have reached 4’9” in height—weight is not necessarily factor. You will know it’s time to move to a seat belt when your child is:

  • Tall enough to sit without slouching (usually 4’9”).
  • Able to keep his or her back against the vehicle seat.
  • Able to keep his or her knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat.
  • Able to keep his or her feet flat on the floor.

When using a seat belt, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs – NOT the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and NOT cross the neck or face.

Remember, just because your child is tall enough to sit with seat belt, that doesn’t mean he should ride in the front seat. Children should not ride in the front seat until they are at least 13 years old because their bodies aren’t developed enough to withstand the crash force of an airbag deploying.

Ask the Experts:

At any stage, if you have questions, AAA is here to help. Just visit AAA.com/CarSeat and schedule an appointment with one of our certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians.

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