Washington, DC - Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States.1 But many of these deaths can be prevented. Buckling children in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts reduces the risk of serious and fatal injuries:

  •  Car seat use reduces the risk for death to infants (aged <1 year) by 71%; and to toddlers (aged 1–4 years) by 54% in passenger vehicles.2   
  • Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged 4–8 years when compared with seat belt use alone.3  
  • For older children and adults, seat belt use reduces the risk for death and serious injury by approximately half.4

How big is the problem?

  • In the United States during 2011, more than 650 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes,5 and more than 148,000 were injured.1
  • One CDC study found that, in one year, more than 618,000 children ages 0-12 rode in vehicles without the use of a child safety seat or booster seat or a seat belt at least some of the time.6
  • Of the children who died in a crash in 2011, 33% were not buckled up.5

What are the risk factors?

  • Of the children who died in a crash:
    • More black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children were not buckled up compared with white (26%) children (2009-2010).5
    • More of the older children (45% of 8-12 year olds) were not buckled up compared with younger children (one-third of 1-7 year olds; one-fourth of infants under 1) in 2011.4, 14
  • From 2001 to 2010, approximately 1 in 5 child passenger (<15 years old) deaths in the U.S. involved drunk driving; 65% of the time, it was the child’s own driver that had been drinking (BAC ≥ 0.08 g/dl).7
  • Most child passengers (<15 years old) of drunk drivers (61%) were not buckled up in the fatal crash.7
  • Restraint use among young children often depends upon the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.8
  • Child restraint systems are often used incorrectly. 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.9

Child Passenger SafetyHow can injuries to children in motor vehicles be prevented?

  • Based on strong evidence of effectiveness, the Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends car seat laws and car seat distribution plus education programs to increase restraint use and decrease injuries and deaths to child passengers.10
  • Car seat distribution plus education programs are also recommended in a more recent review for increasing restraint use.11
  • A recent study of five states that increased the age requirement to 7 or 8 years for car seat/booster seat use found that the rate of children using car seats and booster seats increased nearly three times and the rate of children who sustained fatal or incapacitating injuries decreased by 17%.12

Guidelines for Parents and Caregivers

This graphic explains when to use a car seat, booster seat or seat belt. REAR-FACING CAR SEAT: Birth up to Age 2* Buckle children in a rear-facing seat until age 2 of when they reach the upper weight or height limit of that seat. FORWARD-FACING CAR SEAT: Age 2 up to at least age 5* When children outgrow their rear-facing seat, they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat until at least age 5 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of that seat. BOOSTER SEAT: Age 5 up until seat belts fit properly* Once children outgrow their forward-facing seat, they should be buckled in a booster seat until seat belts fit properly. The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall. SEAT BELT: Once seat belts fit properly without a seat belt. Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). Keep children ages 12 and under in the back seat. Never place a car seat in front of an active air bag. *Recommended age ranges for each seat type vary to account for differences in child growth and height/weight limits of car seats and booster seats. Use the car seat or booster seat owner’s manual to check installation and the seat height/weight limits, and proper seat use. Child safety seat recommendations: American Academy of Pediatrics. Graphic design: adapted from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Parents and caregivers can:

  • Make sure children are properly buckled up in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt, whichever is appropriate for their age, height and weight.

    Know the stages:

    • Birth up to Age 2 – Rear-facing car seat. For the best possible protection, infants and children should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until age 2 or when they reach the upper weight or height limits of their particular seat. Check the seat’s owner’s manual and/or labels on the seat for weight and height limits.
    • Age 2 up to at least Age 5 – Forward-facing car seat. When children outgrow their rear-facing seats they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat, in the back seat, until at least age 5 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of their particular seat. Check the seat’s owner’s manual and/or labels on the seat for weight and height limits.
    • Age 5 up until seat belts fit properly – Booster seat. Once children outgrow their forward-facing seat, (by reaching the upper height or weight limit of their seat), they should be buckled in a belt positioning booster seat until seat belts fit properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). Remember to keep children properly buckled in the back seat for the best possible protection.
    • Once Seat Belts Fit Properly without a Booster Seat – Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly.  Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall. For the best possible protection keep children properly buckled in the back seat.
  • Install and use car seats and booster seats according to the seat’s owner’s manual or get help installing them from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
  • Buckle all children aged 12 and under in the back seat. Airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat. Never place a rear-facing car seat in front of an air bag.
  • Buckle children in the middle of the back seat when possible, because it is the safest spot in the vehicle.13
  • Buckle children in car seats, booster seats, or seat belts on every trip, no matter how short.
  • Set a good example by always using a seat belt themselves.