Back Seat Drivers

The Problem
In today's highly mobile society, children travel more than ever. Sadly, this mobility comes at a staggering price. In 2009, more than 1,300 children died and over 175,000 were injured in car crashes - enough to rank motor vehicle crashes as a leading cause of death for children in the U.S. Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented. Research shows that seat belts and safety seats - when properly used - are the most effective tools in preventing injuries and deaths in vehicle crashes.

Safety Seat Guide
AAA is here to help you better understand the four stages of car seat use. Research tells us that seat belts and child safety seats are the most effective safety devices in preventing serious injuries and deaths in vehicle crashes.

Stage 1: Rear-Facing child safety seat

Who
Children should ride rear-facing until age 2. They should continue to ride rear-facing until they reach the upper weight limit of their rear-facing convertible seat.

What
Rear-facing child safety seat

Why
The rear-facing position supports the child's entire head, neck and spine and helps reduce stress to the neck and spinal cord in a crash. Age is the most important factor due to developmental issues. However, both age and weight requirements should be met before the child is moved to a forward-facing seat.

Installation
Did you know that 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly? Be sure to read your vehicle owner's manual and car seat instruction manual before you install your safety seat.

Here are some tips to remember as you install your seat:
  • Rear-facing seats should be installed in the back seat of your vehicle. Never place a rear-facing seat in front of an active passenger frontal air bag.
  • The center seating position is ideal if it can be used since it is the farthest away from any point of impact.
  • The seat should be installed using either the LATCH system or vehicle safety belt, never both.
  • If using the seat belt to install your safety seat, make sure the belt is locked and can hold the safety seat in tight.
  • If using the LATCH system to install your rear-facing seat, be sure to buckle all unused seat belts to prevent the possibility of strangulation by playing with the seat belt.
  • The seat should not be able to move more than one inch in any direction when testing where the belt goes through.
  • Rear-facing safety seats should be installed in the recline mode to protect your baby's breathing. Be sure to refer to the safety seat manufacturer's suggestion for the 30 - 45 degree recommendation.
  • Harnesses should be at or below your child's shoulders when rear-facing.
  • The harnesses should be snug and lie flat on your infant's shoulders, you should not be able to pinch any slack.
  • The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level, right across your infant's sternum. This protects soft tissue and helps keep the harness straps on your baby.
  • Be sure not to use any aftermarket accessories such as mirrors and metal roller shades, these items could come undone in a crash or sudden stop and injure people in your vehicle. Secure any loose items such as purses, briefcases, toys and umbrellas when you travel so they do not injure anyone.
  • Also secure any unused tethers when installing your safety seat rear-facing.
Stage 2: Forward-Facing child safety seat

Who
Children who have reached the upper weight or height limit of their rear-facing seat around 30-35 pounds, can begin to ride forward-facing. Children should remain in a forward-facing seat with a harness until they have reached the upper weight or height limit of the seat which will be 40-65 lbs.

What
Forward-facing child safety seat

Why
These seats include an internal harness system that keeps your child properly restrained and snug straps that limit forward motion, providing greater "ride down." The forward-facing position provides for the even distribution of physical forces over the child's body in the event of a crash.

Be Sure
Harness straps are kept at or above their shoulders when riding forward-facing, check the car seat instructions to determine the correct harness slot that should be used.

Installation
Did you know that 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly? Be sure to read your vehicle owner's manual and car seat instruction manual before you install your safety seat.

Here are some tips to remember as you install your seat:
  • Forward-facing seats should be installed in the back seat of your vehicle whenever possible. The center seating position is ideal if it can be used since it is the farthest away from any point of impact.
  • The seat should be installed using either the LATCH system or vehicle safety belt, never both. Be sure to buckle unused seat belts to limit the risk of strangulation.
  • If using the seat belt to install your safety seat, make sure the belt is locked and can hold the safety seat in tight.
  • The seat should not be able to move more than one inch in any direction when testing where the belt goes through.
  • Never install anything under or behind your forward-facing safety seat.
  • Harnesses should be at or above your child's shoulders when forward-facing.
  • The harnesses should be snug and lie flat on your child's shoulders, you should not be able to pinch any slack.
  • The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level, right across the sternum. This protects soft tissue and helps keep the straps on your child.
  • Be sure not to use any aftermarket accessories such as mirrors and metal roller shades, these items could come undone in a crash or sudden stop and injure people in your vehicle. Secure any loose items such as purses, briefcases, toys and umbrellas when you travel so they do not injury anyone.
  • There are certified technicians available to teach you how to install your safety seat correctly.
Call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK to find a certified technician in your area.

Stage 3: Booster Seat

Who

Children can use a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harness, which will be between 40-65 lbs.

What 
Belt-positioning booster seat. Use until safety belt fits properly.

Why
Seat belts are designed for 165-pound male adults, so it's no wonder that research shows poorly fitting adult belts can injure children.  Booster seats help ensure proper seat belt placement - resulting in a safer ride for your child. It is the appropriate next step after the child has outgrown a forward-facing child safety seat.

Be Sure:
ALWAYS use both lap and shoulder belt with a booster seat. Never a lap belt only.
  • Make sure the lap belt fits low and tight across the lap/upper thigh area - NOT the abdomen.
  • Shoulder belt should cross the chest and shoulder.
  • ALWAYS in the back seat! Installation: Did you know that 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly? Be sure to read your vehicle owner's manual and car seat instruction manual before you install your safety seat. Here are some tips to remember as you install your seat
  • Booster seats should be installed in the back seat of your vehicle.
  • Always use a lap/shoulder belt with your booster seat.
  • Place the booster seat on your vehicle seat.
  • The lap belt is positioned low on your child's hips and upper tBuckle the lap/shoulder seat belt around your child and the belt-positioning booster seat. Be sure to place the seat belt through the belt guides to help keep it positioned properly on your child. highs; the shoulder portion comes across the sternum and collarbone.
  • Be sure not to use any aftermarket accessories such as mirrors and metal roller shades, these items could come undone in a crash or sudden stop and injure people in your vehicle.
  • Secure any loose items such as purses, briefcases, toys and umbrellas when you travel so they do not injure anyone.
  • There are certified technicians available to help you install your safety seat. Call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK to find a certified safety seat technician in your area.
How do you know when it's time to switch to an adult seat belt?
When the child can sit with his back straight against the vehicle seat back cushion and knees can bend over the seat edge without slouching. The seat belt should fit the child low across the hips and thighs, and across the shoulder and chest. It should not cut into the child's abdomen or neck.

What type of injuries could occur if the seat belt doesn't fit properly?
Out-of-position lap belts can cause serious injuries to the liver, spleen or bowel. Additionally, as the child's upper body jack-knifes over the high-riding lap belt, the spine may pivot and fracture, resulting in paralysis.

The Back is Where It's At!
The back seat is safer for everyone - especially children under age 13. Properly restraining a child in the back seat can significantly reduce the risk of death or injury in a crash  

Stage 4: Lap/Shoulder Belt

When 
  • Safety belt fits properly Shoulder belt across collar bone & chest.
  • Lap belt fits across hips/thighs, not abdomen.
  • Knees bend naturally over edge of seat while sitting upright, with back flat against seat back.
Why
  • Motor-vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of children - including teenagers!
  • Crashes killed more than 1,300 kids last year alone, ranking far ahead of all other types of unintentional injuries and claiming more lives than any childhood disease.
  • Many of these deaths could have been prevented if only the children had been properly buckled up.
  • Children under 13 years of age should be properly restrained in the back seat. Teenagers should wear lap and shoulder belts in every seating position in a motor vehicle.
Be Sure:
  • ALWAYS require seat belt use for all passengers.
  • Make sure the lap belt fits low and tight across the lap/upper thigh area - NOT the abdomen.
  • Shoulder belt should cross the chest and shoulder.  
CHILD AUTO SAFETY IS EASY AS ABC
"Always Buckle Children in the back seat"
 
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children 2 to 14 years of age. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded children are safer riding in the back seat.
  • Buckle up every child in the vehicle properly and buckle up yourself too. Research shows that seat belts and safety seats are the most effective safety devices for preventing serious injuries and deaths in vehicle crashes. Seat belts have been shown to reduce the risk of death by 45 percent and the risk of serious injury by 50 percent. Used in combination with seat belts, child safety seats have been shown to reduce fatalities in infants by 71 percent and to children ages 1 to 4 by 54 percent. In fact, 50 percent of children killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2002 were unrestrained.
  • THE BACK SEAT IS THE SAFEST SEAT FOR ALL CHILDREN. Whenever possible, put children in the back seat of the vehicle. Children under age 13 belong in the back seat. Studies show the risk of being killed in a crash decreases by one-third when this recommendation is followed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 150 children have been killed in crashes because they were seated too close to an airbag.
  • Always secure rear-facing infant seats in the back seat. But, never place rear-facing infant safety seats in the front seat of a vehicle with a front passenger-side air bag. The back of the safety seat in this position is too close to the inflating air bag and the infant could be killed or seriously injured.
  • Air bags are lifesaving devices, but special precautions must be taken when driving children in air bag equipped vehicles. Children risk injury and even death if they are unbelted, improperly belted or otherwise too close to the dashboard when an air bag inflates. To play it safe, always buckle children in the back seat.
  • If the vehicle does not have a back seat, move the front seat as far back as possible from the dashboard and make sure the child is buckled properly in the appropriate restraint for their height and weight.
Additional Information

10 Tips for Choosing a Child Safety Seat
  • Check your vehicle owner's manual. Before going shopping, look at the manual for specifications and proper placement of the child seat.
  • Look for versatility. Do not buy a seat with a large base because it will not fit in smaller vehicles. Instead, choose one with a narrow base.
  • Make installation easy. There should be clear instructions on the seat itself. Choose one that explains installation with a diagram as well as text. The instruction booklet should be written in a clear, concise manner with proper illustrations.
  • Check the belt path. For convenience and ease of use, make sure the child's seat belt path is easily accessed.
  • Use built-in locking clips. This feature is a great alternative of the traditional locking clips because there is less chance that a built-in clip will break or detach.
  • Choose two-piece retainer clips. These clips are important in helping the child stay securely in the seat.
  • Look for accessible harness adjusters. These make it easier and more convenient for parents to move the child in and out of the seat.
  • Pay attention to weight limit. This is usually noted on the seat. For infants, it is best to use a rear-facing, convertible seat with a weight limit up to 30 pounds.
  • Look for color coding if necessary. Many brands offer color-coding to denote age and weight ranges for their seats.
  • Choose something easy to clean. Seats made with a smooth fabric will wipe clean more easily than a textured fabric such as corduroy, which can be difficult to wash.
LATCH - Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children
The LATCH System provides an additional method for installing car seats beyond seat belts.

The LATCH system does not require the use of your vehicle's safety belt to install. As of September 2002, all child safety seats are equipped with two lower tether attachments - see illustration - that attach to a set of bars located in or just above the crease of the rear vehicle seat.

The lower tethers are designed to work in conjunction with top tethers, which have been a requirement for new vehicles and safety seats since 1999. The top tether of the seat is designed to fit into a top anchor built into the vehicle. Check the vehicle owner's manual for tether and anchor locations. Most vehicle manufacturers offer retrofit kits for top anchors at little or no cost.

The LATCH system is designed for rear-facing and forward-facing child safety seats. It is NOT designed for use with most booster seats, check your car seat manual for LATCH specifics. Choose the installation method that allows you to achieve the best fit in your vehicle, if you can get a tight fit, then the seat belt or LATCH installation are equally safe to use. Make sure to choose one or the other; do not use the LATCH system and seat belt together to install your seat.

Latino Children at Risk
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Latino children.

Aviso especial para los niños Latinos

Since 1990, the Hispanic population in the United States has increased by nearly 60 percent. As this population continues to grow, the low safety belt use rate by Hispanics is emerging as a significant public health issue. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Hispanics from 1-34 years of age, and are the sixth leading cause of death for Hispanics of all ages.

As a result of the low belt usage rates, a greater proportion of future crash injuries and fatalities is projected to come from the Hispanic community. Hispanics currently make up 13 percent of the U.S. population and are projected to make up 24 percent by 2050.

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death and acquired disability for Latino children in the U.S. Studies show that Latino children die in crashes at rates up to 60 percent higher than non-Latino white children. Among Latino children, 4-8 year-olds are the most likely to be injured in a crash, according to the 2007 Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS) Fact & Trend Report. This heightened risk, say researchers, occurs because children in this age group are also the least likely to be restrained appropriately for their age and size.

According to the Fact & Trend Report, which analyzed 2006 PCPS data, about 71 percent of 5-year-olds were using either a car seat or booster seat; by age 6, that number was cut in half; and by age 8, only 11.5 percent were using a booster seat. The results are concerning as it is clear many Latino parents are moving their children directly to seat belts when the children outgrow their car seats rather than placing them in a booster seat.

Additional findings from the Fact and Trend Report show that more than 75 percent of crashes involving Latino children occurred within 20 minutes from home. About 70 percent of crashes occurred on roads with a speed limit of less than 45 mph and between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Most crashes occurred during the course of normal daily activities such as driving to school, church, sports practices, or to the store.

AAA hopes to encourage expanded efforts to increase safety belt use within the Hispanic community to reverse the current trend. AAA believes state and local efforts to increase seat belt use among Latino parents will produce higher seat belt and child seat usage for parents and children.

AAA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other groups are working to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers by offering educational literature in Spanish. In addition, NHTSA maintains a database of child safety seat inspection locations around the country that can be easily accessed in English or Spanish by calling (toll-free) 1-866-SEAT-CHECK (1-866-732-8243) or by logging onto www.seatcheck.org.

For more information on this topic, contact your local AAA club.

Aviso especial para los niños Latinos

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's "Children in Traffic" video provides insight into why children behave unexpectedly and is a must-see for all drivers. Order it online! Also available in Spanish! Car seats work best when they are installed correctly. An expert can answer your questions and check your car seat to make sure it's right. It's free and only and step away. Find an expert near you, visit SeatCheck.org or call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK.
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