When Can a Child Stop Using a Car Seat?

by Kirk Brown
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A child passenger is an auto driver's most precious--and most vulnerable--cargo. All children who are under age 8 and less than 4-foot-9-inches tall should be secured in a car safety seat whenever a vehicle is in motion, according to recommendations from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Data compiled by NHTSA officials show that significant progress has been made in preventing child deaths and injuries through the correct use of safety seats. Nonetheless, safety advocates remain concerned about statistics indicating that less than 20 percent of kids between 4 and 8 years of age are riding in car booster seats.


The first automobile child restraint debuted in 1898, consisting of a bag and drawstring that could be attached to a car seat. A major breakthrough came in the 1960s when Swedish designers developed a rear-facing safety car seat for infants. A coalition of safety advocates launched a public awareness campaign about the importance of child car seats during the 1970s. By 1985, every U.S. state had passed laws requiring the use of child safety car seats.


Auto accidents are the leading killer of children between the ages of 2 and 14. The NHTSA reported a total of 1,794 child traffic fatalities in 2006. Another 208,000 kids 14 and under were injured in car crashes. Statistics show that 45 percent of the children who died in vehicle accidents were unrestrained.


Car safety seats are made for three specific groups of children: Rear-facing infant-only seats are designed to protect babies from birth until they reach 20 to 22 pounds. Forward-facing toddler seats can be used from when a 1-year-old child reaches a weight of 20 pounds until age 4 and 40 pounds. * Children should use booster seats until they reach age 8 and a height of 4-foot- 9-inches. Children should ride in the backseat of vehicles until 12 years of age. All passengers in every vehicle should use seat belts.


Research has shown that car safety seats decrease the risk of fatal injury by 54 percent for toddlers and 71 percent for infants, according to an NHTSA fact sheet. The same fact sheet touts the conclusion that child restraints saved more than 8,000 lives between 1975 and 2005.

Where to Get Assistance

Many local fire departments, hospitals, law enforcement agencies and public safety groups can help parents properly install car safety seats. When seeking assistance, parents should ask to speak with a certified child passenger safety technician.

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