Seat Belts and Child Passenger Safety
Buckling up and using correctly-installed child safety seats are the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your family in a crash. Vehicle safety technology has made many advances in recent years including driver and passenger airbags, side curtain airbags, and advanced crumple zones. However, none of those safety features will be of any use during a crash if you don’t remain inside the vehicle. Once you’re ejected from a vehicle, all the safety features in the world won’t help you anymore. Wearing a seat belt helps keep you inside the vehicle where safety technology can do its job.
Seat belts are for everyone. Seat belts are designed to fit adults who are at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall and weigh at least 80 pounds. Children who do not meet these minimum criteria should pair their seat belt or latch system with a correctly installed safety seat, and should always ride in the back seat of the vehicle. And yes, even expectant mothers should wear seat belts. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a detailed brochure that can answer any questions expectant mothers may have about the correct way to buckle up.
In order for seat belts to do their job, they must be worn correctly. The strongest parts of your body are your bones, so you should always wear your seat belt “belt touching bone”...the shoulder belt should go across the chest bone - never behind your back or under your arm. The lap belt should be worn low over your hip bones - never across the stomach.
Many people don’t understand the tremendous force of an airbag being deployed. Contrary to how they are represented on television or movies, airbags are not a soft air-filled pillow designed to cradle your head in a crash. Airbags are actually made from a stiff, nylon material. They are not filled with air, but rather a hot nitrogen gas. (This hot gas is what causes many crash victims to come away with facial and upper body burns.) When the sensor is triggered and the airbag deploys, it bursts from the steering wheel or dashboard at an amazing 200+ MPH.
- Never allow a small child to sit in front of an airbag.
- Never place a rear-facing seat in front of an airbag.
- Don’t depend on an airbag alone to save you in a crash. Airbags are designed to work with seatbelts. If you’re unbelted, the airbag can actually do more harm than good.
Transporting children safely requires a little extra effort on our part. Seat belts are designed to fit a person who is at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs at least 80 pounds. Children smaller than that are not properly protected by a seat belt alone. Those children need a child passenger safety seat. Below is a quick guide to which type of seat is appropriate for the different ages or sizes of children.
- Babies should stay in a rear-facing seat, in the back seat, for as long as possible - usually until they’re around 2 years old (depending on the seat manufacturer's specifications and the size and weight of the child). Rear-facing seats provide the maximum level of protection for babies.
- Children older than 2 can move to a forward-facing car seat and remain in forward-facing car seats until they’re 65 to 80 pounds, depending on the car seat manufacturer’s limit.
- Once a child outgrows the car seat, he or she can move up to a booster seat, and should remain in the booster seat until he or she is 4 feet, 9 inches tall or 80 pounds.
- All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat.
Learn more about Child Passenger Safety
Safety of Children In and Around Vehicles
Children should never be left alone in a vehicle. In warmer months, temperatures inside a vehicle can quickly climb 30-40 degrees warmer than the outside temperatures. A child’s body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s body. Leaving a child in a vehicle, for even a few minutes, can cause heat stroke death. Also, keep your vehicle locked at all times. Children love to get inside parked vehicles to play. This can be dangerous for a number of reasons - the child could lock himself in and not be able to unlock it, or the child could knock the vehicle out of gear causing the vehicle to start moving. Learn more about preventing heatstroke.
92,000 children have been treated in hospital emergency rooms due to injuries sustained while kids are in or around motor vehicles. Before getting in a vehicle, always walk all the way around your parked vehicle to check for children or anything that could tempt a child to walk to your vehicle, such as a pet or toy.