Most states have higher fines for adults who don’t properly secure a child in an approved car seat than for adults who are not buckled up, according to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data.
America’s attention to making children safe in cars has made a big difference. Today, the rate of crash fatalities among children under 13 is a little more than a quarter of what it was in 1975.
Child restraints reduce fatalities by more than 70 percent among infants younger than 1 year old and by 54 percent among children 1 to 4 in passenger cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Do seatbelt and child seat laws make a difference?
In 2020, 607 children 12 or younger died in motor-vehicle crashes, and 38 percent of those weren’t secured in a car seat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC data also shows:
- Car seat use, compared with seatbelt use alone, reduces by as much as 82 percent the risk of injury for children in crashes.
- Booster seat use, compared with seatbelt use alone, reduces the risk of serious injury by 45 percent for children 4 to 8.
- Seatbelt use by older children and adults reduces the risk of death and serious injury by half.
Strong laws help, especially those regarding booster seats. According to the CDC, studies show that:
- Children ages 4 to 8 in states with booster seat laws were more than four times as likely to be using age-appropriate restraints and were 20 percent less likely to die in crashes.
- Restrained children were 66 percent more likely to be buckled into appropriate restraints if their state law followed best practice recommendations.
- The crash death rate among 7-year-olds was 25 percent lower for children in states with booster seat laws covering children that age.
Proper installation and use are key
Simply requiring the use of child restraints isn’t enough, though. According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, safety seats and child restraint systems must be certified according to federal regulations and approved by the NHTSA, the federal agency that regulates child seats for cars. While child restraints have been shown to reduce deaths and injuries, they can be hard to install and often are misused, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Moreover, car seats are not perfect. In July 2021, New York State and 18 other states have called on the NHTSA to implement side-impact testing standards for child-restraint seats and systems.
Car seat standards
Safety seats and restraint systems must be certified according to a federal standard, and users must follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You may find these Department of Motor Vehicles examples helpful in selecting a child seat.
The NHTSA has developed a Car Seat Finder form that allows users to input the child’s date of birth, height, and weight.
- From birth to up to 4 years old, children should be in a rear-facing car seat.
- Until at least age 5, children should be in a forward-facing car seat.
- Upon outgrowing a forward-facing car seat, children should be in a booster seat until they can be properly secured by a seatbelt – usually between 9 and 12.
While this guidance may be helpful, someone looking for help and guidance selecting the car seat or booster seat should generally consult the manufacturer’s directions and consult the applicable law. Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1229-c governs the operation of vehicles with safety seats and safety belts in New York.
Finding the right fit
According to the CDC, a seatbelt that fits properly runs not across the abdomen but across the upper thighs. A properly fitting shoulder belt crosses the middle of the shoulder and chest.
Again, if you are unsure of what car seat to get, the NHTSA has a car seat-finder form. When learning about the right car seat, all the terminology can be overwhelming. Visit Parents Central for a glossary of car seat terms.
Once you find the right car seat, it is generally a good idea to read the manual, which will explain how to properly install the car seat. You can even get your car seat inspected. New York’s Governor Traffic Safety Committee has compiled a list of Child Safety Seat Inspection Stations.
Once you choose the right car seat, it is a good idea to register the purchase with the manufacturer. This will allow you to receive important safety updates. For example, the manufacturer will contact you with recalls or safety notices. You can either fill out a form on the manufacturer’s website or send in the card that came with your car seat.
Car seat tips
Below are some car seat safety tips, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Read the manufacturer’s manual so you’ll know how to install and use the seat, paying special attention to the following:
- Recline angle for rear-facing seats
- Installation tightness (car seats should move more than one inch side-to-side or back-and-forth)
- Harness tightness (checking to see if you can pinch the straps at the child’s shoulders, which would indicate it’s too loose)
- An armpit-level harness chest clip
- Seatbelt fit for children in booster seats
Unfortunately, children secured in the back seat are at risk of something else: being forgotten and left in the car by distracted parents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that over 900 children died of heatstroke since 1998 because they were left or became trapped in a hot car. The problem spiked in 2018 and 2019, when 53 children died each year. These deaths are concentrated in the summer, but, even on a mild day, a car’s interior can reach dangerous heat levels in a short period of time. According to some reports, if the outside temperature is 90 degrees, a car’s temperature can spike to as high as 133 degrees after only an hour.
Chimes can remind parents and other drivers to look in the rear seat before leaving a vehicle they’ve just parked.
Many vehicles now have rear-seat-reminder technology to help prevent such situations–systems that alert drivers who have just parked and turned off their cars that someone or something may be in the back seat. Such reminders are activated by the opening of a rear door prior to a trip.
According to some sources, virtually all new vehicles will have rear-seat reminders by the 2025 model year.
An alert that a passenger in the rear seats is not wearing a seatbelt also should be standard on all vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
William Mattar’s “In the Heat, Check the Seat”
While the rear seat reminder is a step in the right direction, technology alone cannot prevent heatstroke in children and pets.
In 2015, William Mattar, P.C., launched In the Heat, Check the Seat to raise awareness of heatstroke-related injuries children and animals experience because of being left in hot motor vehicles.
Hurt in a car? Call William Mattar.
William Mattar Law Offices has a team of personal injury lawyers who are dedicated to working to protect and educate the public about the risks involved with operating a motor vehicle.