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Motor Vehicle Safety:

Car Seats, Child Passengers and Teenage Drivers

Why should parents learn about car safety and kids?
From the time your new baby comes home from the hospital, until they are driving with their own driver’s license, parents need to learn how to maximize their kids’ safety in the car.  At each stage, kids are at risk in different ways:

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of accidental death for all young people from one-year-old babies through teens [1] [2]. Too many motor vehicle deaths and injuries could have been prevented. Here, you’ll find the information and tools you need to keep your child safer on the road—whatever their age.

My child already has a good car seat. Do I need to read any of this?
Studies have shown that the majority of car seats are being used incorrectly [3]. There's a good chance yours is one of them. Plus, guidelines keep changing as we learn how to better keep kids safe in the car. Read on to find out more.

What do I need to know about car seats and child passenger safety?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Car seat guide:  safety and product information will get you started on how to shop for and correctly install a car seat.

When should kids use booster seats?
When children outgrow forward-facing child safety seats, they need to use belt-positioning booster seats—until they are big enough to fit properly in an adult seat belt. Most children are between 9 and 12 years old before they grow into the height range in which seat belts fit safely—about 4' 9" in height.

When using the car’s safety belt with or without a belt-positioning booster seat, keep in mind these guidelines:

What about car seats for children with special health care needs?
Children with special health needs may have special car seat needs. Special car seat needs may arise with premature infants, children with conditions such as spina bifida or cerebral palsy, or children with a broken bone in a cast. Work with your pediatrician, specialty health care provider, and a nationally certified child passenger safety technician to choose the best option for your child.

What is LATCH?
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It is a car safety seat attachment system that has been developed to make car safety seats easier to use and safer. It makes correct installation easier because with LATCH, you don't have to use seat belts to secure the car seat in your car. Starting in model year 2002, most new cars and most new car safety seats come with lower anchors and attachments.

Keep in mind, though, that unless both the vehicle and the car safety seat have LATCH, seat belts will still be needed to secure the car safety seat. Unfortunately, this system can be confusing for parents—so make sure you are familiar with how it works. Both the lower anchor and the upper tether must be attached securely.

How can I find out more about car seat and child passenger safety?

Visit the NHTSA's child seat recall campaign for up-to-date information on recalls or to report a car seat problem.

What other dangers do cars pose to kids?
According to Janette Fennell, Founder & President of Kids And Cars, "In the US, at least 72 children were backed over and killed in 2003; (more than one child per week) often by a relative in their own driveway, and often by a larger vehicle such as a van, SUV or pickup truck."

Find out more about backover accidents, the dangers of leaving kids in cars during warm weather, injuries from power windows, and other preventable car-related causes of injury and death to kids under age 14 at the Kids and Cars website.

Should pregnant women wear seatbelts?
If pregnant women wear their seatbelts, it can save their baby’s life in a car crash.  Wear your belt under your belly, at your hips, and use the shoulder belt.  Do not tuck the shoulder belt behind yourself.    

What about teenage drivers?
Between 2000 and 2003, 77% of accidental deaths among 16- to 19-year-olds were caused by motor vehicle traffic accidents, according to the CDC. In 2003 alone, that was 4733 young lives cut short [4]. Car crashes are also a leading cause of disability related to head and spinal cord injuries in this age group. The AAP policy statement The Teen Driver discusses the extent of the problem, risk factors, and interventions, including the parents’ role.


Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN. Reviewed by faculty and staff the University of Michigan.

Updated March 2011

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