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Motor Vehicle Safety for Children

You “Auto” Be Careful: Motor Vehicle Safety for Children

For children between the ages of 3 and 14, accidental injury-related deaths happen most often when riding in a car. Children are more likely to be injured, suffer more severe injuries or die in motor vehicle crashes when they are not properly restrained. Correct use of rear-facing and forward-facing child safety seats, boosters and seat belts (when appropriate for age and size), can improve a child’s survivability in a crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Car seat use reduces the risk for death to infants (age less than 1 year) by 71 percent; and to toddlers (ages 1–4 years) by 54 percent.1
  • Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45 percent for children ages 4–8 years when compared with seat belt use alone.2
  • For older children and adults, lap and shoulder belt use reduces the risk for death and serious injury by about 50 percent.3

Ride safe: Use child safety seats correctly AND on every ride

Many people think they have installed their child safety seat correctly and believe they are using it properly. However, as many as 73% of child safety seats are improperly installed or accidentally misused. “It is very important to read and follow both the car seat and vehicle instructions for correct use,” says Deanna Shisslak, parenting education manager with LVHN.

As children grow, how they sit in your car, truck or SUV will change

Rear-Facing: All children under 2 years of age must be secured in a rear-facing car seat until they outgrow the maximum height and weight limits allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

Forward-Facing: When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, secure them in a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

Booster Seats: Once children outgrow a forward-facing car seat, secure them in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap and shoulder belt fits properly, typically when a child is approximately 4 feet 9 inches in height and between 8 and 12 years of age.

Seat Belts: When children outgrow their belt-positioning booster seat, secure them in a properly fitted lap and shoulder belt. A lap and shoulder belt fits properly when the lap belt lies low and snug across the hips/upper thighs and shoulder belt fits across the center of the chest. All children younger than age 13 should ride in the back seat.

For peace of mind and safety assurance, have a certified technician inspect your child’s car seat. In the Lehigh Valley, free car seat safety checks are regularly available by appointment. Call 888-402-LVHN (5846) to schedule. In other areas, visit NHTSA.gov/carseat and enter your location to find a car seat inspection station near you. Most car seat checks are free of charge.

Observe airbag safety

Although airbags can save adult lives, they can be dangerous for children. It is recommended that all children ages 13 and under ride in the rear seat. The best place for small children riding in vehicles is the rear seat, away from the impact of head-on crashes and deployed airbags.

“If your older forward-facing child must ride in the front seat, move the seat as far back as possible, away from the airbag,” says Bill McQuilken, Trauma Prevention Coordinator with LVHN.

Set a good example: Buckle up

Whenever you drive or ride as a passenger in a vehicle, show your children (or grandchildren) that you also buckle up on every ride. “Wearing your seat belt will help protect you and will be a lasting reminder for your family that you take vehicle safety seriously,” Shisslak says.


Never leave children alone in or around cars and get into the habit of checking the back seat before you lock your vehicle.


Visit LVHN.org/LVCH to learn more about how Lehigh Valley Health Network cares for children and to find a doctor in our network.



1Durbin, D. R. (2011). Technical report—Child passenger safety. Pediatrics, 127(4). Advance online publication. DOI:10.1542/peds.2011-0215.

2Arbogast KB, Jermakian JS, Kallan MJ, Durbin DR. Effectiveness of belt-positioning booster seats: an updated assessment. Pediatrics 2009;124;1281–6.

3National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic safety facts, 2015 data: occupant protection. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2017. Available at https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812374.