Child Passenger Safety: Car Seats

A basic necessity for babies is a safe and reliable car seat. Car seats can be expensive, depending on which type of car seat parents are looking at buying. Infant, rear-facing only carriers can cost as little as $50 and be as expensive as $200. A $50 car seat can still be a lot for some parents on a constrained budget, but these cheaper car seats still meet safety requirements.

While costs can be concerning, the most frightening fact is that Motor Vehicle Crashes are the #1 cause of fatal injury for children. Selecting a safe car, minivan or SUV, plus correctly using child restraints and seatbelts may be the most important thing you can do to protect your family.

Based on the strong evidence of their effectiveness, car seat laws are in place to increase restraint use and decrease injuries and deaths to child passengers. The California Child Restraint Law states:

“Children under age 8 must be properly buckled into a car seat or booster in the back seat”

and

“Children age 8 or older, or who are 4’9” or taller, may use the vehicle seat belt if it fits properly with the lap belt low on the hips, touching the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest. If children are not tall enough for the proper belt fit, they must ride in a booster or car seat.

Further car seat enforcement is supported by The Vehicle Occupant Safety Program (VOSP). The VOSP, part of the California Department of Public Health, strives to prevent injuries and deaths to infants and toddlers in California by increasing the use, and correcting misuse, of child safety seats.

Know the stages

Make sure children are properly buckled up in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt, whichever is appropriate for their age, height and weight. Check the seat’s owner’s manual/and or labels for clarification.*

Birth up to Age 2: Rear-facing car seat.

Infants and children should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until age 2 or when they reach the upper weight or height limits of their particular seat.

Age 2 up to at least Age 5: Forward-facing car seat.

When children outgrow their rear-facing seats they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat, in the back seat, until at least age 5 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of their particular seat.

Age 5 up until seat belts fit properly: Booster seat.

Once children outgrow their forward-facing seat, they should be buckled in a belt positioning booster seat until seat belts fit properly. 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).

Once Seat Belts Fit Properly without a Booster Seat: Seat Belt

Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. 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). The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall. For the best possible protection keep children properly buckled in the back seat.

There are several places that offer free car seats to parents who are in need. Places like your local WIC (Women, Infants and Children) office and your local police and fire departments are places you can check for free car seats. You can also ask them to refer you to the nearest location that does offer free car seats.

The VOSP also manages a “Who’s Got Car Seats?” directory and regularly updates this information on the VOSP website at cdph.ca.gov/vosp (no “www”).