According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, nearly a third of child passengers ride in the wrong restraints for their age and size. Recent data from the Crash Injury Research & Engineering Network indicate that inappropriately restrained children are nearly three and a half times more likely to be seriously injured in an auto accident than their appropriately restrained counterparts.

Here are some basic guidelines for parents to think about when they’re choosing a car seat for their child or looking to move their child up to the next level.

Proper Restraints for Infants (Ages 0-12 months): The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents to keep children rear facing up to at least their second birthday. The old rule of “12 months and 20 pounds” many parents cite when turning their child forward-facing in the car is actually the minimum size and age requirement for that change. Statistically, facing infants and toddlers toward the rear of the vehicle reduced the risk of death by 71 percent because of how a rear-facing seat cradles the head, neck and back. In an article published in Injury Prevention, lead author Basem Henary reported that forward-facing children less than 2 years old were 75 percent more likely to be injured in an auto accident.

Proper Restraint for Toddlers (Ages 1-4 years) – Many harnesses today serve child safety for kids weighing 50 to 100 lbs. Adjust the chest clip to the armpit level. The car seat should not move more than one inch side to side or front to back. Be sure the buckled harness is tight so you cannot pinch extra webbing at the shoulder. The most common form of misuse for all child restraints include loose safety belt attachment to the child restraint and loose harness straps securing the child to the child restraint system. A five-point harness secures a child in five places: both shoulders, both hips and the groin. Leave your child in a harness until they can sit properly in a seat belt and booster – usually around age 5.

Children (5-9 years)  – The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests all children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car seat should use a belt positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap-and-shoulder belt fits properly — typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches and are between 8 and 12 years of age. Children seated in a booster seat in the rear of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in an auto accident as compared to those using a seat belt alone.

Child Safety in the Event of an Accident

Note: These answers are not legal or medical advice and should not be relied upon or used as a basis for taking any particular course of action.

Call the police and inform them that your child was in the car during the auto accident and you would like emergency medical services to come to the scene and evaluate your child. Prompt evaluation in an emergency room is recommended, even if your child appears to be fine. Afterward, make an appointment with your preferred pediatrician. If your child is complaining of neck or back pain, you should schedule an evaluation with a chiropractor. They are trained to evaluate and treat children after auto accidents.

Auto accidents compromise the effectiveness of child safety seats, so be sure to replace child safety seats promptly after an auto accident, even if your children weren’t present. Your insurance should cover this expense. Better to be safe than sorry.

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