For many families, driving is the most convenient way to get around. Unfortunately, it can also be dangerous, especially for children. Car crashes are one of the leading causes of death among children in the U.S., with many more being injured every year.

The proper use of car seats can greatly reduce a child’s risk of serious injury or death in the event of an accident. In fact, the risk of death is reduced by up to 70% when parents use car seats correctly.

Safety Tips for Driving With Children

46%
of car seats are used incorrectly Incorrect use or installation puts children at risk of serious injury or deathNHTSA

As parents and caregivers, keeping you children safe and comfortable is a priority when they’re travelling in a car. When your child is old enough, make sure to talk to them about car safety and why they should never distract the driver.

Following a few simple safety tips for every journey could save your child’s life. Here are some things to remember when driving with a child in the car.

Use Proper Restraints

The best way to keep your child safe is to place them in the correct car seat or booster for their age. Use the car seat or booster for every trip until your child is old enough to use a seatbelt properly without one.

Set an Example: Wear Your Seatbelt

As an adult, it’s important to set a good example for your kids by wearing a seatbelt every time you’re in a vehicle. Even if you’re just making a quick journey, the driver and all passengers should always wear their seatbelts, including any children in the car.

Don’t Let Kids Sit in the Front Seat

Children under the age of 12 should never sit in the front seat of a car. This is because the safety features in the front of the car, including the airbags, are designed primarily for adults, and may kill young children.

Seat Children in the Middle of the back seat

Always seat your child in the back of the car and, whenever possible, in the middle of the back seat. This is the safest place in the car.

Seat Children Away from Airbags

When deployed, the force from airbags can seriously injure and even kill children sitting in the front of the car. It’s important to keep small children away from airbag areas, and never place car seats in the front seat.

Types of Car Seats and When To Use Them

The most important thing you can do to keep your child safe on the road is to use a car seat. Make sure you’re using the right car seat for your child’s age and size. Many people think that the car seats for infants and toddlers are the safest, but if a child is too big to comfortably fit in the seat, that can be equally dangerous.

The recommended car seat age ranges are not a hard and fast rule. Car seat manufacturers will always include both an age range and a weight or height range, since some children may be big or small for their age. Make sure the car seat fits your child comfortably.

There are four main ways to buckle your child in when driving.

Rear-Facing Car Seat

Very small children are at the greatest risk of injury in the event of a car crash, since their bodies and spines are still developing. A rear-facing car seat protects children up to the age of two. This type of seat cradles the child and protects the head, neck, and spine, making it the most protective type. Never use a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of a vehicle.

Forward-Facing Car Seat

Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat around the age of two, you should upgrade to a forward-facing car seat. Some parents may be tempted to upgrade to a forward-facing car seat sooner, because they are convenient to use, but it’s important to wait until your child is big enough.

Kids should use this type of car seat until they are five, or until they outgrow the seat. Forward-facing car seats strap the child in snugly and lower the risk of injury. Many car seats can be converted from rear- to forward-facing, so you may not need to buy a new one. Always place the car seat in the back of the car.

Booster Seat

Booster seats are the smallest type of car seat and should be used until your child is big enough for the seat belt to fit them properly. Depending on their size, children aged between five and 10 years old should use a booster seat for extra height. All children grow at different rates, so if your child is over the height and weight limit of a car seat, upgrade to a booster seat.

Never use a booster seat in the front of the car, and always remember to help your child buckle in.

Seat Belt

To sit in a car without a car seat, your child should be tall enough that the shoulder belt does not go over their face, and big enough that the lap belt rests snugly against their thighs, not their stomach. Your child may be the right size to start using a seat belt without a booster from around the age of eight, but they shouldn’t sit in the front of the car until they are at least 12.

Remind your child to buckle up for every journey, even short trips, and educate them on the safety benefits of seat belts. Always set a good example by buckling your own belt.

How to Use a Car Seat

Using car seats properly is incredibly important. A 2011 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 46% of car seats were used incorrectly. Using a car seat incorrectly or not installing it properly puts your child at risk of serious injury.

Different car seat models have different guidelines for use, but there are a few standard practices you can follow to protect your child.

Proper Car Seat Use
Use the Right Seat

The biggest mistake parents make with car seats is using the wrong type for their child’s age and size. It’s important to check the manuals and also measure your child every few months to make sure the fit is still right. If not, it’s time to upgrade. (See car seat types below.)

Strap in the Car Seat

Rear-facing and front-facing car seats are buckled in using the car’s seat belt threaded through the bottom of the car seat. Tighten the seat belt after buckling to make sure the car seat doesn’t slide around while driving.

Use the LATCH System

Car seats also use a LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) to connect the car seat to the car. LATCH anchors should be used when the combined weight of your child and the car seat is up to 65 pounds. This system makes it easier to install the car seat, and car manufacturers are required to put the necessary hooks in cars made since 2002. Follow the diagram provided by the manufacturer to connect the straps and tethers to the proper hooks.

Fit Harnesses Correctly

Straps can often become twisted or tangled over time. Ensure the car seat’s harnesses lie flat and snugly against over your child’s shoulders and chest. Once you buckle in, tighten the harness to make sure your child won’t slide around in the car seat.

Make Sure Seat Belts Are Fully Locked

Over the course of a drive, safety buckles that are not properly clicked in can come loose. This can cause your child to move around in the seat or even fall out. Double check seat belts before starting the car to ensure they’re fully locked.

Get the Car Seat Checked Out

You can also ask a certified professional to check how you use the car seat to ensure you’re installing it correctly. Many local police and fire stations have people who can guide you about proper car seat usage.

Car Seat Statistics

Car seats are the best way to keep children safe while driving. Unfortunately, not all parents and guardians use them.

In 2015, 35% of all children who died in car accidents were not using a seat belt or car seat. If a car accident does occur, using a car seat can reduce the risk of death by 71% in babies, 54% in toddlers, and 45% in children up to eight years old.

The use of car seats is on the rise. Using a car seat correctly for every journey can save your child’s life and help prevent serious injuries. Educating yourself on proper car seat use is the best thing you can do to protect your child.