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Is your child ready for the next car seat stage? Maybe not, experts say

New guidelines encourage parents to keep children rear-facing longer

As part of Child Passenger Safety Week, which begins Monday, AAA and other safety organizations are encouraging parents to take the time to ensure their children are in the correct seat for their age and size when riding in the car.

AAA says three out of four car seats are not installed correctly, putting roughly 75 percent of children at a greater risk of injury or death.

AAA recommends following the car seat and child restraint guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in August updated its recommendations to encourage children to stay in rear-facing seats until they reach the upper weight or height limit of the seat. 

Previous recommendations said children could graduate to a forward-facing seat after their second birthday. 

Cynthia Dennis with Safe Kids Northeast Florida agrees with the new guidelines.

"Each step, each transition, you're going to lose a little bit of safety," Dennis said.

Once your child has outgrown the rear-facing car seat, you can move them to a front-facing seat.

Dennis also said you need to keep them in five-point harness as long as possible. She said one mistake some parents make is moving their children into a seat belt too early. Instead, use a booster seat.

"We recommend that you use a higher deck booster seat, again, as long as possible, until that seat belt fits them. Which is usually 4 feet, 9 inches, 80 to 100 pounds. Probably going to be at least 10 (years old)," Dennis said.

Dennis said that for their best protection, children under 13 should continue to ride in the back seat.

"Statistically, it's a safer place for them to ride, but specifically because of an airbag deploying," Dennis said. “If it deploys, it can harm a smaller body."

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children in the U.S., with an average of two children under 13 killed per day in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

Compared to forward-facing car seats, rear-facing car seats limit movement of the head, neck and spine. For young children with tender and developing neck muscles, this additional support results in fewer injuries during a crash. 

In addition to using the correct seat, AAA encourages parents to check for some of the most common car seat mistakes, including:

  • Not installing the car seat tightly enough
  • Loose harness straps
  • Turning your child forward-facing too soon
  • Moving your child out of a booster seat too soon
  • Allowing a child under the age of 13 to ride in the front seat

“We want parents and caregivers to have the tools and information they need to keep their children safe,” said Matt Nasworthy, Florida Public Affairs Director for AAA. “Child Passenger Safety Week is a great opportunity for people to review the latest guidelines while checking to make sure their child is in the right seat for them.”

Child Passenger Safety Week ends with National Seat Check Saturday on Sept. 29, a day that focuses on car seat safety and encourages parents to have their child’s car seat inspected by a certified car seat technician. 

For more information on car seat safety and child passenger safety resources, visit safeseats4kids.com.


About the Authors:

Ashley Harding

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.