Boost Your Child's Safety: Car and Booster Seat Guidelines

As a parent, you do all that you can to make sure your child is safe. Unfortunately, too many children aren't properly protected in the one place they are most likely to get hurt: automobiles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. Car safety seats are meant to keep children safe in the event of an accident, but only if the seats are used properly. In fact, one study found that 72% of nearly 3,500 observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child's risk of injury during a crash.¹

Once a child outgrows a child safety seat, many parents allow them to ride with just a safety belt for protection. However, safety belts are not designed for children. Using a booster seat raises a child up so that the safety belt fits correctly and provides adequate protection. In fact, according to researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, for children 4 to 7 years, booster seats reduce injury risk by 59% compared to seat belts alone.²

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends car and booster seats for children for as long as possible, as long as the child fits within the manufacturer's height and weight requirements. Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12. To help you protect your child at all ages, follow these guidelines for car seat safety from the NHTSA:

Birth – 12 Months

  • Rear-facing car seat
  • Back seat of auto

1-3 Years

  • Rear-facing car seat
  • Back seat of auto

4-7 Years

  • Forward-facing car seat with a harness
  • Back seat of auto

8-12 Years

  • Booster seat
  • Back seat of auto

For more information on these guidelines, view "Car Seat Recommendations for Children" from the NHTSA.

Keep in mind, these guidelines are recommendations from the NHTSA. It is your duty to assure you are in compliance with the child restraint laws specific to your state. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides a comprehensive listing of child restraint laws by state on their website. Visit childsafety_laws.html for more information.

¹ Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Traffic Safety Facts Research Note 2005: Misuse of Child Restraints: Results of a Workshop to Review Field Data Results. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2006.

² Durbin DR, Elliott MR, Winston FK. Belt-positioning booster seats and reduction in risk of injury among children in vehicle crashes. JAMA 2003;289(14):2835–40.