Posted On: November 3, 2011 by Patrick A. Malone

When Is It Safe for a Child to Graduate from a Car Seat?

Later than you might think, according to this guest blog from Beckley Mason, which explores important new safety developments in car seats:

Out here in California, a law was recently (and at long last) passed that raises the size and age requirements children must reach before they can leave their safety car seats. California joins Maryland and about 30 other states in requiring that children be eight years old or at least 4’9’’ (which ever comes first).


While the law may not be popular with kids eagerly awaiting the day they can sit like an adult, it’s an important step to keep kids safe. Even with advances in technology and awareness of child seat safety fairly high, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for children between ages 3 to 14.


The reason that California, which was once the leader in child safety seat laws, fell so behind the times is that former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger twice vetoed similar laws. Schwarzenegger claimed that he would rather spend state money promoting education for parents on how to best use car seats than pass another difficult to enforce law. While it’s difficult to agree with his decision to veto, his reasoning does carry more than a bit of logic. In a state without our budget concerns this policy would be entirely indefensible, but research confirms that many parents all around the U.S. need more education on how to properly use booster and car seats to maximum effect.


In a groundbreaking year-long study of 79,000 car seats and their passengers, Safe Kids USA found that less than a third of all parents were both installing their car seats and strapping their children in properly. The primary issue was a failure to correctly use the top-most tethers that fully secure child seats during a crash. While at rest, these top tethers can seem superfluous, and often inspectors found that they were secured too lowly, or not at all. However when in a collision, the tethers are vital because they keep the passenger child’s head from moving dangerously during crashes.


The same study raised concerns that many parents who do their best to secure their children are not aware of the latest best practices for children of different heights and weights. New research doesn’t always reach the people who need to hear it, as in 2010, when American Academy of Pediatrics changed guidelines. The group now recommends that children under two years old ride in rear-facing seats. However a recent poll showed that barely a quarter of parents were aware of that fact. About three quarters of responding parents turned their kids around before year two, and 30 percent before year one.


It is at that young age that child seats are most vital to preventing serious injury. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), properly using a child safety seat decreases the risk of death by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. Even older, less vulnerable children are 59 percent less likely to be injured in a booster seat that ensures the seatbelt fits across the chest instead of the collarbone or neck.


The NHTSA is trying to spread the latest word on child passenger safety by offering free educational resources to parents around the country. There are trained professionals at locations around the country that now offer 20-30 minute “courses” on properly installing car seats and their strapping in their passengers.


You can find a location near you by clicking over to the NHTSA website and searching by state or zipcode. It’s a great opportunity to get the latest information and training to make sure you keep your precious cargo safe.



Beckley Mason writes a Bay Area street safety blog for GJEL Accident Attorneys.


Families interested in learning more about our firm's legal services, including legal representation for children who have suffered serious injuries in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia due to medical malpractice, defective products, birth-related trauma or other injuries, may ask questions or send us information about a particular case by phone or email. There is no charge for contacting us regarding your inquiry. An attorney will respond within 24 hours.

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