In early September, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new car seat guidelines on child passenger safety. The group recommends that children ride in rear-facing seats for as long as possible, that they then ride in forward-facing seats until at least age 4, and that they ride in belt-positioning boosters until at least age 8 or until they reach a height of 4 feet, 9 inches. All children, experts say, should ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old.
Chantel Lowery, MPH, coordinator of injury prevention and Safe Kids Los Angeles West at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, has some additional advice to help kids ride safely.
Why do experts recommend that children ride rear facing as long as possible?
Especially for young infants, if they are in a crash – especially a frontal crash, which is the one that happens the most – their head, neck and spine are protected. Children who are riding forward facing are thrown forward with a whiplash motion. For younger children, that can be very dangerous, causing injuries and even paralysis.
Once children can face forward, why do experts want them to stay in car seats until age 4 and boosters after that?
If the seatbelt doesn’t hit them correctly on their shoulder or on their lap, it can cause injuries to their internal organs. If the child is too short, the lap belt will sit right on their stomach if they’re not in a booster seat. And in a crash, the seatbelt locks out and it hits right there in that area.
How can parents tell that their child has outgrown their car seat or booster and should move to the next phase?
On every seat, there are stickers that give you the max weight and height for both the rear-facing and forward-facing positions. For bigger seats that have harnesses and then turn into boosters, it’ll let you know the max weight that they can use the harness and when they can start using the booster. Parents also can look up that information in the manuals that come with the car seats or call the manufacturer.
What’s your main message to parents when you’re educating them about child passenger safety?
We want to keep these children as safe as we can, to follow the guidelines, to talk to a technician if they need to. We’re readily available. We want to make sure that they can have their child riding in the vehicle safely every time.
Do you have a message for older kids having to stay in a booster and in the back seat of the car?
Yes. Explain to them that they’re being examples, especially if they have younger siblings. There are so many different types of boosters; it does not necessarily have to be presented as a “car seat” for them. Don’t call it a “baby seat” or anything like that.
And teach them about the airbags. They are very powerful and come out at 200 miles per hour, so the back seat is the safest. We really recommend that we only put children in the front if they’re learning how to drive. We want to keep them in the back seat, in a car seat or booster seat, as long as possible.
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles offers free car seat inspection appointments and car seat classes in English and Spanish twice a month. Learn more at 323-361-4720.