Car seat guidelines are continually reviewed and revised based on the results of ongoing research to improve the safety of children when traveling in moving vehicles. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an updated set of car seat guidelines in April 2011. It advised that children under 2 years old should ride in a rear-facing car seat and older children should ride in a booster seat until they are 4 foot 9 inches tall (about 1.45 meters) and at least 8 years old. Additionally, kids 12 years old and younger should not be permitted to ride in the front seat of a vehicle. Car seat guidelines issued by the AAP are not always the same as child restraint laws set forth by individual states in the United States.
Safe car seat use has been shown to be effective in preventing child deaths in motor vehicle accidents. Research has shown that the risk of injury and fatality is higher for unrestrained children than for those who are appropriately restrained when they are involved in a crash. Appropriate use of child restraint devices also is important in reducing the risk of injury. It is essential to follow appropriate car seat guidelines and install and use car seats correctly to ensure the safety of children. Certified inspectors, often found at local fire and police stations, can ensure the proper and safe installation of car seats.
Manufacturers of car seats specify height and weight requirements, and these measurements should be used as supplemental guidelines in conjunction with applicable laws. There are different types of car seats for different ages and sizes. The most important guideline is to always select a size- and age-appropriate car seat. Parents are urged to read the car seat manual for this information.
All 50 states in the U.S. have laws and regulations pertaining to child restraint devices, but not all states have laws specifically pertaining to booster seats and seat belt use. Approved child restraint devices are required for all children traveling in a vehicle in the U.S. The age at which children are allowed to wear an adult seat belt can differ by state. Car seat guidelines also may vary from one state to another. These variations mean it is important to check with the appropriate state regulatory office for any unique laws concerning car seat safety in addition to following the manufacturer’s specifications and AAP recommendations.