Car Seat Safety

This video series will help you choose and install the proper child safety seat or booster seat for your child. You will also learn about the LATCH system and how to use it, and about air bags and air bag safety. You can also watch it in Spanish or order a copy of our free educational DVD, "A Crash Course in Child Passenger Safety".

Transcript

Car Seat Safety for Your Infant Video

Narrator: In the United States around 5,000 infants under the age of 1 are injured in auto crashes every year, some fatally. That's the bad news. Now here's the good news: research has shown that a properly installed rear-facing car seat can dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury for your baby in a crash.

Michael Nance is a doctor at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who is an expert at treating injured children.

Michael Nance, MD: Because infants' heads are the heaviest part of their body, young babies are not developmentally able or strong enough to withstand the shock of a crash when they are forward-facing. In a head-on collision, the rear-facing seat will support your child's head, protecting the brain, neck and spine and help to spread the crash forces across the back.

Narrator: Infants and children should always be secured in the back seat, especially if your vehicle has frontal airbags. These can injure or kill a child. The best seating position is always the one in which your safety seat can get the tightest fit. If possible, use the center position in the back seat.

During the first year, there are three car seat choices to secure babies; rear-facing infant-only seats, convertible car seats and in cases of low-birthweight or premature infants, a car bed. Rear-facing infant-only seats like these are made for smaller infants and should never be used in the forward-facing position. You can now find infant carriers with a higher weight harness just like this one. Some even hold children up to 35 pounds. Some families choose convertible seats like these to use rear-facing and then turn the seat forward-facing once the child reaches the maximum height or weight for the child seat. Safety experts recommend that infants and toddlers stay rear-facing until they are 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the child safety seat. Always check your car seat manual for maximum weight and height guidelines.

At times, car seats can be tricky to install and simple mistakes can have fatal consequences for kids. Be sure to always check your vehicle's owner's manual and your car seat instructions for specific information, but here are some general rules to follow:

For a good, snug fit, be sure your child is wearing light clothing when you adjust the harness. When tightened, the harness should lie in a straight line with no slack. The harness should be adjusted each time you place your baby in the seat to make sure the harness is tight. Harness straps should be threaded through slots at or below your baby's shoulders. If you can pinch a fold in the harness at the baby's shoulders, your straps should be tighter. Lastly, a harness retainer clip keeps the straps over the baby's shoulders. Buckle the harness and tighten the straps. Position the clip at armpit level.

Once the seat is in the car, it is important to make sure the seat is at the correct angle. You don't want the seat to be too upright or too flat. Some seats have angle indicators to show you when the seat is reclined correctly. Many infant seats have an adjustable base to help set the angle. If your seat doesn't have this feature, you may need to use a rolled towel, baby blanket or a swimming pool noodle under the foot of the safety seat to help set the angle.

Next, pull the seat belt out. Then, carefully thread it through the rear-facing belt path of your child's safety seat. Check your car seat manual to make sure you're using the correct belt path for the rear-facing position and check your car owner's manual to make sure you have locked the belt correctly. Some vehicles manufactured before 1997 may require the use of a locking clip to secure the seat belt. Your vehicle owner's manual will tell you if you need one. Read both the vehicle owner's manual and your child's seat manual to learn how to install the clip properly.

A loosely installed seat is one of the most common and dangerous mistakes parents make. To ensure a tight fit, use your upper body weight to press down on the seat, buckle and tighten and lock the seat belt. Now, hold the safety seat at the belt path and pull it firmly side to side and toward the front vehicle seat. A properly installed child safety seat will not move more than an inch in any direction.

As you put your child in the car seat, get in the habit of checking both the seat and the harness for a proper fit. As babies grow and clothes change with the season, it is important to adjust your harness every time you buckle your baby. After you are sure your car seat is tight in the car and baby is safely buckled into the harness, you're good to go.

Cars made since 2002 have an attachment system called LATCH which makes it possible to install safety seats without using the seat belt.

For more good advice on kids and cars, look for a certified car seat technician in your area. You may find a free child safety seat checkpoint or car seat check at a local hospital, police or fire department or state highway safety office. And remember, crashes happen, but with proper precautions, serious injuries don't have to.

This presentation was created by the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Safety Seats for Your Toddler

Narrator: In the United States nearly 300 children ages 1 through 3 are killed in auto crashes every year. That's the bad news. Now, here is the good news: research has shown that a properly installed child safety seat can dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury to children in the event of a crash. 

When a crash occurs a child will continue to move at the same speed as the vehicle until hitting something which slows him down. If he is not properly restrained, he may suffer death or serious injury. However, a properly restrained toddler will be held in place and come to a more gradual stop with the vehicle and usually avoid serious injury. 

Safety experts recommend that children stay rear-facing until they are 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight and height allowed by the manufacturer of their child safety seat. If your child is over age 1, continue to use a rear-facing safety seat to the maximum weight or height for the car seat. Just be sure your child's head is one inch below the top of the safety seat's back. If your child has reached the maximum weight or height for his infant car seat, use a convertible child safety seat that has a higher rear-facing weight limit. Children who are turned forward facing too soon are more likely to be injured in a crash. Remember, toddlers over age 1 can stay rear-facing until they reach the maximum weight or height of the car seat. 

When your child is ready to move to sit facing-forward, you have several options. The first is the convertible safety seat. When forward-facing, this seat can be used up until your child reaches the maximum weight or height of the car seat. Always look at the labels on your car seat to find the maximum weight and height allowed. Some car seats go up to 65 pounds or more, like this one. 

Next, is the combination child seat which is a booster seat that comes with an internal harness. These are used with the seat's internal harness until your child reaches the maximum height or weight for the harness, which is usually 40 pounds and then it converts to a belt-positioning booster. Just like the convertible car seat, the harness should be used until the maximum weight or height allowed. The harness is removed and the booster seat is used with the vehicle's lap and shoulder belt. We encourage parents to use a car seat with a full harness as long as possible. 

Finally, some vehicles have built-in child seats with a harness, but they are not very common. They may be used for children who are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. Some also convert to belt-positioning booster seats for older children once the internal harness is outgrown. Check your vehicle owner's manual for weight and height information. 

Children should always be secured in the back seat of any vehicle particularly if it has active, frontal air bags which can seriously injure a child. Your child is safest in the back seat where you can tightly install the car seat. Tracey Hewitt is a Child Passenger Safety Technician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Tracey Hewitt: Unfortunately, many car seats are installed incorrectly. And simple mistakes like these can be fatal for kids.

Narrator: You should always check your vehicle owner's manual and your safety seat instructions for specific information on correctly installing your car seat, but here's some general rules to follow:

When turning a safety seat from rear- to forward-facing, most harnesses must be re-threaded or re-adjusted. The best time to change the harness settings for your child is before you install the child seat in your car. When forward-facing, the straps should always be at or above your child's shoulders. In some seats, the top slots are the only correct slots to use for forward-facing children. Some allow the use of other slots as long as the harness is at or above your child's shoulders. It is very important to read the car seat manual for specific instructions about your car seat. When your child's shoulders are above the top slots or the top of his ears reach the top of the car seat, your child has outgrown the seat and needs a larger safety seat or may be ready for a belt-positioning booster seat. 

Buckle the harness and tighten the straps. The harness straps are tight enough when you cannot pinch a fold in the harness at the child's shoulders. The harness retainer clip which should be at armpit level helps to hold the harness straps on your child's shoulders. Now you are ready to install the safety seat into your vehicle. 

A loosely installed seat is one of the most common mistakes parents make. First, pull the seat belt out. Then, carefully thread it through the forward-facing belt path of your child's safety seat. Check your car seat manual to be sure you're using the correct belt path for a forward-facing position. And check your vehicle manual to make sure that you have locked the belt correctly. To ensure a tight fit, use your upper body's weight to push the seat down and back while you feed the belt back into its retractor. The seat belt should be tight and locked to make sure it stays tight. Many vehicles have built-in locking mechanisms within the seat belt system. Seat belts normally lock at the latch plate or in the retractor. To lock this seat belt, you must pull the belt all the way out to switch it over to a locked position. 

Forward-facing seats have the added security of the tether system. A tether strap attaches the top of the car seat to special tether anchors in your vehicle. It helps to keep your child's head from moving too far forward in a crash. When you hold the car seat at the belt path, the seat should not move more than an inch from side to side or toward the front of your vehicle. Some vehicles manufactured before 1997 may require the use of a locking clip to lock the seat belt. Be sure to read your vehicle owner's manual to learn how to use your seat belt correctly with a child safety seat. 

Cars made since 2002 have an attachment system called LATCH which makes it possible to install safety seats without using the seat belt. 

For more good advice on kids and cars, look for a certified car seat technician in your area. You may find a free child safety seat checkpoint or car seat check at a local hospital, police or fire department or state highway safety office. And remember, crashes happen, but with proper precautions, serious injuries don't have to.

This presentation was created by the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Booster Seats for Your 4- to 8-year-old Child

Narrator: In the United States around 300 children are killed in auto crashes every year. That's the bad news. Now here's the good news: research has proven that using belt-positioning booster seats with lap and shoulder seat belts instead of seat belts alone reduces the risk of serious injury by half for kids 4 to 7 years old.

Doctor Dennis Durbin is a physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Children's Hospital.

Dennis Durbin, MD: On young children, the shoulder portion of a vehicle seat belt often crosses the neck rather than the shoulders which is both uncomfortable and dangerous. To get comfortable, kids will often put the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arms making it useless. If the shoulder belt is not positioned properly and a crash occurs, your child's upper body and head can fly forward and hit the interior of the car causing neck, spine or brain injury.

Narrator: A belt-positioning booster seat raises your child so that the lap/shoulder belt is property positioned across the center of the chest and low on the hips, touching the thighs. In a crash, the belt will protect and restrain the child as it was designed to do.

When your child completely outgrows the internal harness of their forward-facing child safety seat, by reaching the maximum weight or height of the car seat, you can switch to a belt-positioning booster seat. Children should stay in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4' 9" tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age. Boosters need a vehicle seat with both a lap and shoulder seat belt to work correctly. There are four types of belt-positioning booster seats.

First is a booster seat that has an internal harness. These can be used with the harness until your child weighs between 40 and 65 pounds and without the harness, as a belt-positioning booster seat, up to 100 through 120 pounds. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the specific limits on your seat.

Second is the high-back, belt-positioning booster. These are for vehicles that don't have high seat backs, headrests or head restraints.

Third is the backless, booster seat and must be used in vehicles with head restraints, high seat backs or headrests.

Finally, your vehicle may have a built-in child restraint. Some of these are similar to child safety seats. Others are only booster seats used with a lap/shoulder belt. Again, check your vehicle owner's manual for weight and height information.

Belt-positioning booster seats are easy to install. Of course, you still need to read your vehicle Owner's Manual and booster seat instructions, but here's some general advice on installation.

The right place for a booster is anywhere in the rear seat that has a lap and shoulder belt. Backless models like this one should only be used in seating positions with a high seat back or headrest. Have your child sit in the booster seat, pull the lap/shoulder belt across his body, buckle it and make absolutely sure the shoulder strap stays in front of your child. Always use both lap belt and shoulder belt. If your vehicle doesn't have shoulder belts, consider using a child safety seat with a higher weight harness.

Lap belt guides are cut-out grooves on the sides of the booster that help make sure the lap portion of the seat belt lies below the hips and touches the thighs. Use shoulder belt guides only if needed. A shoulder belt positioner on the side of the high-back booster may be needed to guide the shoulder belt across the center of the chest. Check your booster seat manual to see how to thread the shoulder belt through the positioners taking care not to pull the belt off the shoulder.

Some backless seats come with a strap to help position the shoulder belt correctly. Depending upon your child's size, you may not need to use the positioners for a good fit. The shoulder belt should cross the center of the shoulder and chest and should not cross or touch your child's neck. The lap belt should fit snugly below the hip bones and against the upper thighs. It should never rest over a child's belly.

For more good advice on kids and cars, look for a certified car seat technician in your area. You may find a free child safety seat checkpoint or car seat check at a local hospital, police or fire department or state highway safety office. And remember, crashes happen, but with proper precautions, serious injuries don't have to.

This presentation was created by the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Air Bag Safety for Infants, Toddlers and Children

Narrator: Airbags have saved thousands of lives and prevented millions of injuries to adult passengers since carmakers started installing them in the 1980s, but for children under 13, frontal airbags can be fatal. 

Front passenger airbags are in the dashboard and are designed to inflate and fill the space between the occupant and the dashboard to protect an adult in a crash. But for children under 13 years of age, sitting in front of an airbag doubles their risk of serious injury. Michael Nance is a doctor at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who is an expert at treating injured children.

Michael Nance, MD: When a head-on crash occurs, seat belts and airbags are designed to work together to help passengers come to a gradual stop and to protect against injuries. But for a child in the same situation, the rapidly-inflating airbag can pull the head away from the body resulting in serious injury and sometimes death.

Narrator: A rear-facing child can also be killed from the force of an airbag hitting the back of their safety seat. Never place a rear-facing child in a seat with a frontal airbag. The best protection is to put your child in the right restraint for your child's age and size in the back seat of your vehicle each and every time you travel.

Airbags have been improved since the early 80s, but even now the risk of fatal or critical injury for children remains high. For that reason, children under 13 should never be seated in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger airbag. There may be times when your child must ride in the front seat. You may be driving a pickup truck or sports car with no back seat, have more children in the car than can safely fit in the rear seat, or your child has a medical condition that may require your attention. If a child must ride in the front vehicle seat with a passenger airbag, move the vehicle seat as far back as possible and make sure he is correctly restrained. 

Just remember children sitting in front of an airbag during a crash are at double the risk of serious injury. So before you decide to expose your child to that risk, you should consider all your options. Whenever possible, avoid transporting infants and children in vehicles without rear seats and make sure they are properly restrained. If your child requires constant attention, make sure there is an adult riding in the back seat. As the driver, you need to keep your eyes on the road.

Some vehicles now come with side airbags in addition to frontal ones that can protect passengers and drivers in side-impact crashes and rollovers. Side airbags and curtain airbags can come out of the side of the vehicle seat or from the roof above the window and can provide protection for both the front and back passengers. Some cars may have side airbags in the rear seat that come out of the seat back or door. Side airbags may be harmful to children who are leaning against the door. Side airbags are smaller than front airbags and inflate with much less force. But if the child's head is too close to the side airbag, your child could suffer a serious injury. Consult your owner's manual to learn if it is safe for children to sit next to a side airbag in your vehicle. In all vehicles with side airbags, teach your children not to lean against the door. 

Pickup trucks and other vehicles without a back seat have on/off switches for the airbag. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration makes some exceptions for consumers with special circumstances who need to have airbag on/off switches installed in their cars. If a child must ride in this type of vehicle, be sure to turn the airbag off, especially for a rear-facing seat. You must remember to turn the airbag back on for the protection of the next adult passenger.

For more good advice on kids and cars, look for a certified car seat technician in your area. You may find a free child, safety seat checkpoint or car seat check at a local hospital, police or fire department or state highway safety office. And remember, crashes happen, but with proper precautions, serious injuries don't have to. 

This presentation was created by the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

About LATCH System

Narrator: Of all the frightening statistics we hear about child passenger safety, this may be the scariest. Three out of 4 car seats are not installed correctly. Between the different types of cars and child safety seats, there are literally hundreds of different ways to install a child seat. That's why a different system was developed for installing child safety seats without the use of seat belts. It's called LATCH.

Simply put, it works by using a built-in strap with hooks on the child's safety seat which attach to anchors in the car. LATCH is used for both rear- and forward-facing child safety seats. Most belt-positioning booster seats do not need to be attached to the vehicle so they do not come equipped with LATCH. Any car made after September 2002 must come with LATCH in at least two seating positions. Your vehicle owner's manual will tell you if LATCH is present. You can also look for the built-in latch anchors which are usually marked by a symbol or tag on the vehicle's seat.

LATCH-equipped vehicles will have two lower anchors and one top tether anchor installed in each LATCH seating position. Convertible cars are not required to have tether anchors. LATCH-equipped child safety seats will have two LATCH attachments that connect to the lower anchors. Forward-facing safety seats will also have one top tether strap that connects to the tether anchor in the vehicle. Lower anchors are small horizontal bars that are found in the rear seat of the car where the seat back and bottom seat cushions meet. Top tether anchors for forward-facing safety seats can be found in different areas of your car such as the floor, underneath the vehicle seat or the rear-window shelf. Consult your car manual for help.

The top tether attaches to an anchor in the vehicle. Top tethers greatly reduce the amount of head movement a forward-facing child may experience in a crash. Infant car seats have lower attachments only. If your rear-facing infant seat has a detachable base, only the base will have a set of lower attachments. convertible child safety seats have both a top tether and lower attachments. When installing this seat in a rear-facing position, usually you use only the lower attachment hooks. Some convertible seats available in the United States use a top tether when rear-facing. Check the safety seat's manual. Forward-facing child seats use both a top tether and lower attachment hooks.

LATCH may make it easier to get the child seat in right the first time and every time. With LATCH, you install your child safety seat without using your vehicle seat belt. Of course, you should always check your vehicle and car seat manuals for specific details, but here's some general guidelines for using LATCH:

First, fasten the safety seat's lower attachment to your vehicle's lower anchors. Tighten and adjust according to the instructions in your manual. You may need to use your upper body's weight to press down the seat as you attach the lower attachment hooks for a tight fit. If you are using a child safety seat in the forward-facing position, attach the safety seat's top tether strap to the top anchor in your vehicle. Pull to tighten. Check to see if the seat is tight in the car. You should not be able to move it more than an inch, side to side or forward. Always make sure you are attaching to the LATCH anchors, not part of the vehicle trim or other vehicle tie-downs. And never fasten more than one safety seat to the same anchor. The LATCH system may make car seat installation easier, but remember whether it's by LATCH or by seat belt, any properly installed child safety seat can save lives.

For more good advice on kids and cars, look for a certified car seat technician in your area. You may find a free child safety seat checkpoint or car seat check at a local hospital, police or fire department or state highway safety office. And remember, crashes happen, but with proper precautions, serious injuries don't have to.

This presentation was created by the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Related Centers and Programs: Car Seat Safety for Kids, Injury Prevention Program