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Ensure child passenger safety while driving your vehicle

Updated December 23, 2009

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, motor vehicle injuries remain one of the leading causes of death and hospitalization among children in Los Angeles County. Riding unrestrained is the greatest risk factor for death and injury among child passengers.

It is estimated that 82 percent of children who are placed in a child safety seat are improperly restrained. According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), more than 80 percent of children under the age of 4 who were killed in vehicle crashes since 1990 would have survived if they had been properly buckled up in a child restraint seat. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Journal of the American Medical Association, when used properly, child safety seats can reduce the risk of fatal injury by 70 percent for infants, 55 percent for toddlers and 59 percent for those riding in booster seats.

The California Vehicle Code (CVC) requires children to be properly secured in a child seat or booster seat until they reach the age of 6 or weigh 60 pounds. The CVC also requires children under 16, but at least 6 years of age or 60 pounds to ride in a restraint system (car seat, booster, harness or other product certified to meet federal safety standards) or a properly fitted safety belt (lap belt touching the thighs and shoulder belt resting on the childís shoulder, not under the arm or behind the back).

Car safety tips

  • Make sure every passenger is buckled up for safety and that all children are properly restrained.
  • Children 12 and under should always ride properly secured in the back seat. The front seat is a dangerous location for them. Upon deployment, air bags can seriously hurt or even kill children.
  • Researchers estimate that putting a child in the back seat instead of the front reduces the chance of injury and death by more than 30%, whether or not the car has a passenger air bag.
  • Always read the child safety seat instruction manual and your motor vehicle ownerís manual to ensure proper installation of your child safety seat.
  • Contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationís Auto Safety Hotline at (888) 327-4236, or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772 or visit to learn about recalls or safety notices on child safety seats. Always return product registration forms so that you can be notified of any recalls.
  • Most child safety seats and vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002 are equipped with LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tether for Children). The bottom of the safety seat is connected by straps with hooks to two bars in the crack of the vehicle seat cushion. If LATCH is not available, use the vehicle belt instead. In either case, the top tether strap should be attached for forward-facing seats.

Seating your child safely

Infants up to 12 months of age should ride in the back seat of the car, rear-facing in an infant-only or rear-facing convertible seat until they are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. Make sure that the harness straps are at or below the infantís shoulder and fit snugly against the infant without slack. You should not be able to pinch the strap between your thumb and finger. The harness chest clip should be placed at the infantís armpit level to keep harness straps positioned properly on the infantís shoulders. Since most babies outgrow an infant-only safety seat at 6 to 9 months, they should continue riding in rear-facing convertible child safety seats rated for heavier infants.

Children ages 1 to 4 may ride in a forward-facing child safety seat. They should continue to ride in a safety seat with a harness, in the back seat of the car, until they weigh 40 pounds. This is usually around the age of 4. Make sure that the harness straps are threaded through the top slots, unless the instructions indicate that center slots may be used for forward-facing seats. Make sure that the harness straps are at or above the shoulder of the child and that they fit snugly against him or her without slack. You should not be able to pinch the strap between your thumb and finger. The harness chest clip should be placed at the childís armpit level to keep harness straps positioned properly on his or her shoulders.

Children ages 4 to 8 must ride in the back seat of a car in a booster seat and be restrained with a lap/shoulder belt. Take the five step test below and if you answer "no" to any of the questions, your child must be in a booster seat.

  • Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
  • Do the childís knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
  • Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
  • Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
  • Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If your car only has lap belts (no shoulder belt) in the back seat, you cannot use a booster seat. However, you can contact the car manufacturer to see if a retrofit shoulder belt can be installed, or contact SafetyBeltSafe at (800) 745-SAFE or visit the Safety Belt Safe U.S.A. website for special products with harnesses for children weighing more than 40 pounds.

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