When you pack your family into the car this summer to head to the beach, the park, or the grocery store, the most important thing you can do for your children is to make sure they are properly secured in their seat belts. Safe adult drivers begin as safe child passengers. Teach your kids safe habits before they learn unsafe ones from someone else.
The National Highway Safety Administration has created some important guidelines every parent should follow when securing their children in the car. As a general rule, children 12 and under should always sit in the back seat where they are away from active air bags. Air bags are made for adults and the force of the deployment may seriously injure a young child.
Infants from birth to 20-22 pounds and at least one year old have special guidelines for safety. Adults should make sure to use a rear-facing infant seat or a rear-facing convertible seat when securing a child in the back seat. If you have a car that seats only two, the air bag should be deactivated before placing the child in the passenger seat. The harness straps should be snug and taught and should be placed in the lower slots at or below shoulder level. The top of the harness clip should be at armpit level. And the child passenger restraint should be installed at no greater than a 45-degree angle.
The switch to a forward-facing car seat can be made for toddlers 20-40 pounds and over one year of age. Again, secure harness straps snugly in the appropriate reinforced slots at or above shoulder level and fasten the harness clip at armpit level.
Once your child has exceeded 40 pounds, is between ages 4 to 8 and is up to 4′ 9″ tall, they may use a booster seat. Secure the booster seat much the same way as with the child seat. Using a lap and shoulder belt, make sure to place the shoulder strap over the shoulder of your child and across their chest. The shoulder strap should never go across the neck, face or arm of your child. Place the lap belt low and snug on the hips – never over the stomach. If the shoulder or lap belt is in the wrong place during an accident, it could cause serious abdominal injury.
At 8 years of age and 4′ 9″ or taller, your child has graduated to an adult restraint system. As with the booster seat, use a lap and shoulder belt to secure your child, taking care not to have the belts cross the stomach, neck, or arms. Children should learn that they cannot place the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arms, as this defeats the purpose of being restrained.
For general information on the proper use of child restraint devices, always consult the instructions that come with your child safety seat, as well as the information provided by your vehicle’s owner’s manual.