Parents and guardians of children of all ages need to ensure they travel safely and use the appropriate safety equipment to keep younger children at minimal risk of injury or death on the road. The best way to keep children safe while driving is to use good judgment and abide by the rules of the road, but there are several other best practices that can help to ensure the health and safety of younger passengers.

Infants and Car Seats

Newborns and very young babies should always be secured in a Department of Transportation (DoT) approved car seat. The seat should ideally have a five-point harness to evenly distribute force in the event of an accident. Children under two years old should be in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. State laws vary, but generally children should remain in a rear-facing seat until they are too tall to sit safely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that car seats help prevent child deaths in car accidents. For infants, a car seat reduces the chances of death by 71%. For toddlers under four years old, the chance of death drops by 54% with a car seat.

It is crucial for parents to purchase reliable car seats and follow all of the included safety information. Check a car seat’s manufacturer for past recalls, or ask other parents for their recommendations. Most states require parents to replace car seats after an accident, even if the car seat sustained no obvious damage. However, the force of a car crash can weaken a car seat or compromise its safety features. Always replace a car seat after it has been in a car accident, even if there is no apparent damage to the seat.

Older Children and Safety Belts

Once children reach the acceptable size for riding without a car seat, parents should still take precautions against injuries and fatalities with a few best practices. Older children who are too large for car seats may still be safer riding in booster seats. These seats help to ensure the seat belts rest properly on smaller passengers. A seat belt should rest across the shoulder and across the top of the legs, but keeping the seat belt in the proper position can be difficult for children.

Many people wear their seatbelts across the stomach, but this practice can be incredibly dangerous. “Seat belt syndrome” describes the damage inflicted by an improperly fitted seat belt. When a car is in an accident, the seat belts will lock to prevent the passengers from flying into the front of the vehicle. If the seat belt rests against the stomach it can cause severe internal organ damage, especially with smaller children.

Other Best Practices With Children in a Car or Truck

In addition to proper car seats and seat belt use, parents and drivers should never allow children to ride in the trunk of a car or the bed of a truck. These areas are not meant for passengers and have no safety harnesses if you are involved in a truck accident. Children who ride in front of active air bags can sustain serious injuries, so drivers should keep smaller children in the back seat. Most state laws forbid children under a certain age or size from riding in front passenger seats, so parents and drivers should familiarize themselves with the local laws for transporting children.

If a child suffers an injury due to malfunctioning or defective safety equipment, the parents should reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney at Heenan & Cook, PLLC to secure compensation for the injuries and other damages. A lawyer can also be a fantastic resource for navigating a state’s car seat laws and other laws concerning children in vehicles.