Do you remember the time when kids would just hop into a car without even the thought of seat belts or car seats? Yes, things might have been less complicated back in the 70s, but they were also a lot riskier. To put it simply, seat belts save lives. Reports show that for every five children killed in a US car crash, at least one child was not restrained or not restrained properly. What’s just as alarming is that child fatalities in automobiles are highest in Texas and the south in general. But with more education along with stricter car seat and seat belt laws in Texas today, we could potentially prevent hundreds of deaths each year — even by increasing restraint usage by just 10 percent.
Best Practices for Car Seat and Seat Belts
(Taken from the Texas Department of Safety)
Selecting the proper car safety restraint for your child depends on their height, weight, and age. When deciding where your child should sit and selecting a car seat, there are some industry standards to consider that will optimize safety. Texas DPS recommends the following choices based on years of scientific study and crash statistics.
Phase 1: Rear-Facing Seats
Infants: Birth to 35+ pounds and 2+ years old. Use rear-facing infant or rear-facing convertible safety seats as long as possible, up to the rear-facing height or weight limit of the seat. Properly install according to the instructions in the owner’s manual, and only use rear-facing safety seats in the back seat.
Phase 2: Forward-Facing Seats
When children outgrow the rear-facing safety seat (minimum 2+ years), they should ride in a forward-facing safety seat as long as possible, up to the upper height or weight limit (40–80+ pounds) of the harnesses. Forward-facing car seats are typically used from 2 to 4+ years old. Ensure the safety seat is properly installed and forward-facing in the back seat. NEVER switch to forward-facing seats before your child meets all age, height, and weight requirements set by the safety seat manufacturer.
Phase 3: Booster Seats
After your child’s 4th birthday, he or she can ride in a booster seat so long as they have reached 40+ pounds and the appropriate level of behavior maturity*. Children can ride in a booster seat using the adult lap and shoulder belt until the adult safety belt fits them properly without it (usually when the child is 10–12 years old). The booster seat MUST be used in conjunction with the lap/shoulder belt.
*Behavior maturity is usually outlined by the booster seat owner’s manual
Phase 4: Adult Safety Belt
Once children outgrow their booster seat (usually at 10–12 years old), they can use the adult lap/shoulder safety belt if it fits them properly. The lap belt should be worn low over the hips/tops of thighs and the shoulder belt should cross the center of the shoulder and center of the chest.
Children are better protected the longer they can stay in each phase. Keep children in each seat up to the maximum age/weight/height limits before moving to the next phase. ALL children younger than age 13 should ride properly restrained in the back seat.
How Can You Tell If a Car Seat Is Secure?
Many parents find that installing a car seat is not that easy. First you have to figure out how to work the latch system that connects the car seat to your vehicle. Then you have to adjust the belts and sometimes even the headrest to secure the car seat the best way possible. But making sure you get this right is crucial to ensuring your kids’ safety. Failure to secure the car seat tightly can lead to serious injuries if you get into an accident.
So how do you ensure you’ve installed the car seat properly?
#1. Read the car seat’s instruction manual and the owner’s manual for your vehicle. Taking the time to read the instructions will help you understand how all the parts work and fit together. Most car seats have a latch system that hooks to metal loops on your back seat. Other car seats, like booster seats, are secured using the seat belt. Be sure to follow height and weight guidelines above when deciding which type of car seat to use for your child.
#2. Check for tightness. Lack of tightness is the #1 safety hazard that inspectors find when testing car seat installations. To test your installation, grab the base of the car seat with both hands and move it back and forth, then side to side. You shouldn’t be able to move the seat more than one inch in any direction. If you can, your car seat isn’t secured tightly enough.
You also want to check for tightness of the harness once your child is seated. The harness should fit tightly against your child’s body with no slack. To ensure the straps are positioned correctly, the harness chest clip should sit right at the center of your child’s chest.
Yes, We Have Seat Belt Laws in Texas, But What Else Needs to Be Done?
- Car seat and seat belt laws are already proving to reduce vehicular deaths, but communities need to make these laws a priority by continuing to educate the public. This can be done by awareness campaigns and car seat education at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and schools.
- Police and state troopers should be trained to enforce seat belt laws, including laws for backseat passengers.
- Drivers and passengers should always encourage others to use car seats and seat belts properly, no matter how short the trip.
- Drivers and passengers should lead by example. Always put on your seat belt before you go anywhere. Use phrases like “Safety First” to encourage a safety culture in your vehicle.
- Double check to ensure your little ones are adequately restrained in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt according to the regulations around age, height, and weight. Whenever possible, utilize the middle back seat the most because it is the safest spot in the vehicle.
- Parents should make sure car seats are secured properly any time it’s been reinstalled in the car.