All 50 states have a combination of laws that require drivers to restrain children in car seats, booster seats, and seats belts. Specifics vary by state, based on the child's age and size.
Car crashes are the number one killer of children ages 1 to 12 in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. Young children restrained in child safety seats have an 80 percent lower risk of fatal injury than those who are unrestrained.
Another potential problem is that the parents or guardians of a large number of youngsters do not properly place their children in their child safety seat or booster seat. The seat might be the incorrect one for the child, based on his or her size and age. The child might not be strapped in properly. Or, the child might be placed in the front seat. (The back seat is always the safest.)
Since 2002, all car seats and most vehicles are required to have the LATCH system installed. It makes it easier to install the car seat every time.
To keep your child safe, learn your state's child car restraint rules (www.usa.safekids.org) and follow these practices:
Place your child in a rear-facing infant seat or rear-facing convertible seat for as long as possible—at least until the child is age 2, or until he or she reaches the highest weight or height the car seat manufacturer recommends. This is usually between 22 to 35 pounds. The safest place to install the car seat is in the center of the back seat.
Install the car seat tightly. You shouldn't be able to move it more than an inch when tugging from side to side.
Make your child's harness snug. You should only be able to fit a finger or two between the harness and your child.
Place a child who weighs 40 to 80 pounds in a forward-facing seat with a harness.
Use a booster seat until your child can sit on the regular seat with his or her back all the way against the seat and knees bent comfortably over the edge.
Keep the lap belt snug on your child's upper thighs or hips, not against his or her soft abdomen. Keep the shoulder belt snug across your child's chest and collarbone.