Healthy You - Every Day

Keeping Kids Safe on the Road

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among children age 12 and younger

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Car seat safety

Travel via motor vehicle is a common part of life not just for a lot of adults, but many kids too. Whether you are driving your children to school, taking them to a sports game or heading on a road trip, going from point A to B by car offers families a chance to catch up or even play some fun travel games.

However, while road trips can provide opportunities for bonding and fun, they also can be dangerous.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children age 12 and younger, and in 2020, an average of three children were killed and 380 were injured in traffic crashes every day.

“Children are more at risk for injury in car crashes than adults because their bodies are much smaller and more fragile,” says pediatrician Lauren McCrillis, DO, with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. “When selecting a car or booster seat, the most important thing is choosing one that is appropriate for your child’s age, weight, height and development levels,” she says. “In addition to driving safely, parents and guardians should also make sure children are properly secured in age-appropriate car or booster seats before every trip they take. If an accident occurs, the proper restraints can be the difference between life and death.”

“When selecting a car or booster seat, the most important thing is choosing one that is appropriate for your child’s age, weight, height and development levels.” - Lauren McCrillis, DO

To help protect the children in your life during Child Passenger Safety Week and beyond, McCrillis shares everything you should know about car safety for kids:

State laws

Pennsylvania law states:

  • All children from birth to age 4 must be secured in an approved car seat anywhere in the vehicle.
    • All children under age 2 must be secured in a rear-facing car seat until the child outgrows the maximum height and weight limits designated by the car seat manufacturer.
  • All children age 4 and older, but less than age 8, must be secured in a seat belt system and an appropriate child booster seat anywhere in the vehicle.
  • All children age 8 and older, but less than age 18, must be secured in a seat belt system anywhere in the vehicle.

“When selecting a car or booster seat, the most important thing is choosing one that is appropriate for your child’s age, weight, height and development levels,” McCrillis says. “Before installing the seat, you should read through both the seat’s installation manual and your vehicle owner’s manual to make sure you are comfortable with each step.”

If you are unsure how to select the appropriate car or booster seat or if you would like to find a certified child passenger safety technician to teach you how to install one or check your installation, you can visit the PA Traffic Injury Prevention Project’s website for these and other resources.

Once your child’s car or booster seat has been installed, practice putting them into it ahead of your first ride to lessen stress and ensure you are doing so correctly.

“It can take time to learn how to appropriately secure your child in their car or booster seat, so I always recommend parents do a few test runs well before they hit the road,” McCrillis says. “Be sure to review the instructions that come with your car and booster seat, and if needed, provide your child with a toy or snack to distract them while you are practicing.”

Additional car safety tips

  • Before installing a car or booster seat, make sure it has not been recalled and check the manufacturer’s expiration date.
  • Avoid using car seat accessories – like cushions or padding – that do not come with the seat itself. These items can affect how your child fits in their seat, lowering their level of protection.
  • Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of an airbag-equipped vehicle with an active passenger side airbag.
  • During colder months, avoid dressing children in bulky clothing, as it can affect the fit of their car or booster seat harness. Instead, dress them in a normal number of layers, and once they are secured in their seat, cover them with blankets.
  • Never leave your child unattended in a car seat inside or outside the vehicle.
  • Encourage children under age 13 to ride in the back seat of cars instead of the front passenger seat.
  • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle. Vehicles heat up quickly, even if the windows are partially open.
  • Make it a habit to look in your vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.

“Taking these small steps and being aware of our surroundings can make a big difference in the safety of our tiniest travelers,” says McCrillis.

car seat safety

Car Seat Checks Through Lehigh Valley Health Network

Certified child passenger safety technicians will show you how to correctly install your car seat and properly secure your child.

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