Protecting Children in Automobile Collisions

Car wrecks can be especially dangerous for the smallest passengers.  shutterstock_197735198Automobile collisions are one of the leading causes of death among children in the United States. [1]   But with correct use and installation, child safety seats reduce the risk of infant death in car wrecks by 71%, toddler deaths by 54%, and reduce the need for hospitalization by 69%. [2]  Lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat occupants of passenger cars by 45% and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%. [3]  However, over 80% of car seats are used incorrectly today.  In fact, 38% of the children killed in car crashes in 2013 were not buckled up at all.  Parents and caregivers can greatly reduce the likelihood that children are hurt or killed in wrecks by ensuring that children are restrained appropriately for their age, size, and maturity.  Under O.C.G.A. § 40-8-76, Georgia law requires that children under age 8 ride in the back seat and be appropriately restrained in a car seat or booster until they reach 4’9”.  While not mandatory, Georgia law recommends that children remain in the back seat until age 12 or older.

Car Seats

  • All car seats should be installed tightly enough that there is less than 1 inch of side-to-side motion when the seat is pulled forcefully at the seat-belt path.
  • Buckle the seat every time it is in use! The chest clip should be at arm-pit level, and straps should be untwisted and pulled tight enough that you cannot pinch slack.
  • Georgia law recommends that children be in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least one year of age and at least 20 pounds. [4] However, American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a rear-facing car seat until 2 years of age or until children reach the highest height or weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
  • Harness straps should be at or above shoulder level when forward-facing, and at or below shoulder level when rear-facing.
  • Rear-facing seats should never be used in front of an airbag, as this can cause fatal injury in the event that the airbag deploys.
  • Always check the car seat manual to be sure that your child is within the weight and height ranges for your particular seat!
  • Car seats should be replaced after being involved in a crash, even if they appear undamaged.

Booster Seats

  • Once a child reaches 40 pounds, she may be moved to a high-back booster seat. Be sure that the child is also mature enough to stay upright and buckled in the seat for the duration of the car ride.
  • A booster is used in conjunction with the shoulder-lap belt, and boosts the child up so that the vehicle seat belt fits correctly.
  • High-back boosters provide head and neck protection, which is safer in rear-end crashes.
  • Children may discontinue the use of a booster seat once the seat belt fits properly without the use of the booster. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck).  This typically occurs when a child is around 4’9”.

These recommendations reflect changes in car seat technology and laws that have been remarkably effective in reducing child fatality in automobile wrecks.  Today, half as many children die in traffic crashes than were killed in 1975. [5]  This trend will only improve as more parents and caregivers become aware of car seat safety guidelines.