Car Seats and Child Safety: How to Keep Children Safe?
July 15th 2021
Since the implementation of mandatory child car seats in motor vehicles, child traffic mortality rates have decreased significantly, in both the United States and Canada. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that motor vehicle deaths per million children younger than 13 has decreased by more than 75% since 1975 . The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) estimates that car seats can reduce the risk of death in infants by 71%, and also reduce the risk of serious injury in children under the age of 4 by 67% .
Despite these encouraging findings, motor vehicle accidents remain among the leading causes of death in children aged 1 to 13 . Incorrect car seat usage may contribute to this total.
Common car seat misuse includes the following:
Car seat restraint misuse, such as attaching the car seat too loosely to the car, and overly loose harness straps on the seat itself .
Using the wrong car seat: there are 3 types of car seats, which will be discussed in more detail below, and each type of car seat is designed for children of a certain age and/or size. However, parents may keep their children in one type of seat for too long or graduate prematurely to a bigger car seat. Lastly, many parents have their small children restrained with a seat belt only .
Using the car seat after a traffic accident: the NHTSA recommends replacing a car seat after all moderate or severe motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) .
Using a used car seat: used car seats may be too old to use or have been recalled by their manufacturer . They may also be missing parts or have been in serious traffic accidents .
Improving Car Seat Safety:
The first step in improving a child’s safety whilst in a motor vehicle is to use the right type of car seat.
There are 3 broad categories of car seats:
1. Rear facing car seat: the safest type of seat for children aged 0-2 to use .
2. Forward facing car seat: once children outgrow the rear facing seat, they can transition to a forward-facing seat. Children can typically use a forward-facing car seat between the ages of 2 and 7 .
3. Booster seat: The last stage in car seat usage, which to be used by children who are too big for a forward-facing child seat, but too small for a seatbelt to fit them correctly. The age at which children outgrow a booster seat varies, but it may be as late as the age of 12 .
Children, regardless of their age, should not use adult seatbelts on their own until they are big enough for the belt to lie across their upper thighs and be snug across the shoulder/chest area . Additionally, children under the age of 13 should only ride in the back seat of cars .
Securing the Car Seat Safely:
In order to properly secure and use the child seat, parents and guardians should always follow these steps:
- Check the manufacturer’s weight and size limits .
- Make sure that the specific car seat chosen can fit in their vehicle .
- Read the vehicle owner’s manual to determine how to install the child seat .
Child Seat Safety Resources:
NHTSA has a checklist on its website that parents can use before buying a used car seat. If all requirements that are on the checklist are met, the car seat is probably safe to use.
Parents and guardians can also refer to other NHTSA resources to find out more about correct car seat usage.
Canadian parents and guardians can check the CAA website for information on car seat safety.
In addition, all parents/guardians have a responsibility to check their state’s or province’s laws on child seat and seatbelt usage.
LISKE is an established leader in the field of accident and injury reconstruction with thirty years of experience investigating and reconstructing transportation accidents. Our unique team approach allows our Human Factors and Injury Biomechanics experts to provide additional analysis on both accident and injury causation. The high-level approach we take to each assignment ensures that no element of causation is overlooked and no stone is left unturned, including whether an incorrectly used car seat played a role in a child’s injury.
 IIHS. Retrieved from: https://www.iihs.org/topics/child-safety
 CAA. Retrieved from: https://www.caa.ca/driving-safely/car-seat-safety/
 NHTSA 1. Retrieved from: https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats
 NHTSA 2. Retrieved from: https://www.nhtsa.gov/car-seats-and-booster-seats/car-seat-use-after-crash
 NHTSA 3. Retrieved from: https://www.nhtsa.gov/car-seats-and-booster-seats/used-car-seat-safety-checklist