Child passenger safety is a top goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Decades of research and data tell us that the best way for parents and caregivers to keep children safe in vehicles is to correctly use the right car seats (rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, or booster seats) or seat belts for their children’s ages and sizes.
During Child Passenger Safety Week, scheduled for September 18-24, 2022, NHTSA encourages parents and caregivers to take some time to make sure your car seats and booster seats are just right. Double-check that your children are in the right types of seats for their ages and sizes, that the car seats fit your children properly, and that the seats are correctly installed in your vehicle. If you aren’t sure, Child Passenger Safety Technicians are available to help you make sure.
Why is it so important to check your car seats to make sure they’re the right seats? Your children’s lives are riding on it. Below you’ll find some startling statistics about child crash fatalities and injuries.
- Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children.
- On average, two children under 13 were killed, and an estimated 278 were injured every day in 2020 while riding in cars, SUVs, pickups, and vans.
- In 2020, 604 child passenger vehicle occupants died in traffic crashes, compared to 617 in 2019.
- In 2020, more than a third (38%) of children who died while riding in passenger vehicles were unrestrained.
- From 2016 to 2020, there were 3,267 children under 13 killed while riding in passenger vehicles. Child crash fatalities decreased every year from 2016 to 2020.
- From 2016 to 2020, there were 1,721 “tweens” (8 to 14 years old) killed in passenger vehicles. In 2020 alone, the 8- to 12-year-old age group had the highest number of fatalities (216) among children in passenger vehicles, followed by the 4-to-7 age group (207).
- In 2020, an estimated 101,656 children riding in passenger vehicles were injured in traffic crashes.
- Of the children under 13 involved in crashes in 2020, an estimated 14% were injured.
- Children from some minority groups are at greater risk of being unrestrained when killed in traffic crashes: According to 2019 data from NHTSA, 54% of Black children killed in car crashes were unrestrained, followed by Hispanic children (41%) and American Indian children (31%). By comparison, white children killed were unrestrained 26% of the time.
- In 2020, over half (53%) of the children killed while riding in light trucks were unrestrained, followed closely by SUVs (46%), passenger cars (34%), and vans (34%). Children are safest when secured in the proper car seats or booster seats for their ages and sizes.
Car seats save lives
- It’s estimated that since 1975 there have been 11,606 lives of children under age 5 saved because of child restraint use.
- In passenger cars, car seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers. For infants and toddlers in light trucks, the corresponding reductions are 58% and 59%, respectively.
- Most parents are confident that they have correctly installed their child’s car seat, but in almost half the cases (46%), the seat has not been installed correctly. Having your car seat installation checked is a quick, free, and important way to have peace of mind about your child’s safety.
Booster seats—don’t skip a step
- Booster seats are an essential step between car seats and seat belts. These transitional seats position the seat belt so that it fits properly over the stronger parts of your child’s body to protect them in a crash.
- According to NHTSA data, in 2019, about 16.6% of children 4 to 7 were prematurely moved to seat belts, when they should have been riding in booster seats.
- In every phase, from infant seat to seat belt, keep your child in the right seat as long as their age and size allows. Check the size limits on your forward-facing car seat with a harness. You may be surprised how long your child can safely use it.
- As kids get older, they start having more opinions about things like car seats and booster seats. Remember: you’re the grownup and you call the shots. Don’t rush to put your child in a seat belt too soon. If a booster seat is still appropriate for their age and size, then that is the safest way for your child to be buckled.
- When your child is ready to use a seat belt, ensure the seat belt fits correctly: The seat belt should lie across the upper thighs and be snug across the shoulder and chest. Remember that seat belts should never rest on the stomach area or across the face.
Know your state’s child passenger safety laws
- For the past 30 years, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories have had laws requiring children to be secured in the appropriate car seats or booster seats for their ages and sizes while riding in cars.
- Some states now require children to ride in appropriate car seats or booster seats until as old as age 9. See the laws for your state on the GHSA website.
Common mistakes parents and caregivers make with car seats
- Failing to read the car seat instructions and the vehicle owner’s manual. This can lead to incorrect installation, exposing a child passenger to the risk of injury or death in a crash. If you need help with the installation, reach out to a Child Passenger Safety Technician who will help for free.
- Moving children to the next type of car seat before they’re old enough and big enough.
- Letting young kids ride in the front seat. All children under 13 should always ride buckled up in the back seat. The air bags in the front seating position are designed with an adult passenger in mind. Never place a car seat in the front seat.
- Forgetting to use the top tether on a forward-facing car seat. A tether should always be used to install a forward-facing car seat; it prevents the car seat from moving forward in a crash. Read your vehicle owner’s manual to find the correct anchor for installation.
Don’t stress. Help is available.
- National Seat Check Saturday is September 24. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians are available in your community. These men and women will explain and demonstrate how to use car seats, booster seats, and seat belts correctly. Free of charge, the technicians will help educate parents and caregivers on choosing the correct car seat, installing that seat correctly in their vehicle, and using that seat correctly every time.
- Technicians can also discuss the importance of registering a car seat with its manufacturer, and what to expect if the seat is subject to a safety recall.
- Find out if a technician is available in your community by visiting nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats#install-inspection.
- Appointment availability may vary based on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but you can also check for virtual appointment availability in your community by selecting the option under the Car Seat Inspection finder on the website.
NHTSA aims to make child passenger safety easier for parents and caregivers by providing helpful resources online. You will find many free, online resources at www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats.
- Car Seat Types: Determine whether your child fits best in a rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seat, booster seat, of seat belt.
- Car Seat Recommendations: Review NHTSA’s recommendations for the best car seat for your child’s age and size.
- Find and Compare: Find and compare car seats with NHTSA’s handy car seat finder, which also searches specific brands.
- Ease-of-Use Evaluation: This tool lets you compare how easy it is to use certain car seat features so you can make informed decisions about the right car seat. You can also search by brand.
- Car Seat Inspection Station: Certified technicians will inspect your car seat free of charge, in most cases, and show you how to correctly install and use it. Some locations also offer virtual inspections.