Updated car/booster seat recommendations – make sure your child is riding safely

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with updated recommendations regarding our children’s car and booster seats. If you’ve had your seat installed or checked by a certified car seat technician with Safe Kids Southeast Wisconsin Coalition or  Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, then you already may be familiar with these recommendations. They aren’t laws, but they do mirror the best practice messages we teach parents served through our car seat clinic and car seat check events.

The recommendations can get a little confusing, so here’s a breakdown:

  • Rear-facing: Your child should stay rear-facing until at least age 2 (longer if he or she still fits within the weight and height of his or her rear-facing seat). If your child outgrows his or her rear-facing infant seat before age 2, move the child into a seat that can remain rear-facing but accommodates higher weights and heights. Many seats now have rear-facing weight capacity that go up to 30-40 pounds. Rear-facing seats offer much more protection in a crash protecting a child’s back, neck and head. One-year-olds are 5 times less likely to be injured in a crash if they are in a rear-facing car seat than a forward-facing seat, according to a 2007 analysis of five years of U.S. crash data.
  • Forward-facing: Once a child has outgrown his or her rear-facing seat and is at least 2 years old, he or she may be turned forward-facing in a harness seat – preferably a five-point harness. The child should remain in the forward-facing harness seat as long as the child is within the weight and height requirements of the forward-facing seat. Many forward-facing seats now have harnesses that can accommodate children from 50-80 pounds and are taller than they’ve ever been in the past. The five points of contact the harness provides the child offers much more stability in a crash, reducing the risk of injury, than the three points of contact a seat belt provides. Minimum requirement by Wisconsin law says your child must stay in a harness seat until he or she is 4 years old and 40 pounds. If he or she is in a higher weight harness seat, your child can stay in a harness much longer than this minimum requirement.
  • Booster seat: Once your child has outgrown the harness seat, he or she can move into a booster seat, and should remain in a booster until he or she is 4’9” tall. Seat belts are made to fit an adult and when a child under 4’9” sits in a seat belt only, it does not fit correctly. The lap belt rests on the soft tummy instead of over the bony part of the hips, which in a crash could potentially cause the child to receive more a significant injury. The shoulder belt often will not fit correctly and rub on the neck, making the child uncomfortable. The child may put the shoulder belt under his or her arm or behind the back ­– again, potentially causing the child to receive a more significant injury. Minimum requirement by Wisconsin law says a child can move from a booster seat to a seat belt when he or she turns 8 years old or weighs 80 pounds or is 4’9” tall – whichever comes first. However, the best indicator of when a child is ready to sit in a seat belt alone is when he or she reaches 4’9”.
  • Other points: A child should stay in the back seat until age 13. Once a child has outgrown a booster seat, he or she should sit in a sitting position that has both lap and shoulder belts versus only a lap belt, as this can help to reduce the risk of internal injury.

As always, if you have questions about your child’s car or booster seat, please schedule an appointment with the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Booster and Car Seat Clinic.  For more information, visit chw.org/carseats or safekidswi.org.

~ Lisa Klindt Simpson, coordinator, Safe Kids Southeast Wisconsin


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