Child Passenger Safety

Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. But many of these deaths can be prevented. Always buckling children in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts reduces serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%.

Risk Reduction for Every Age


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 injury in a crash by 71-82% for children, when compared with seat belt use alone.

  • Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged 4-8, when compared with seat belt use alone.

  • For older children and adults, seat belt use reduces the risk for death and serious injury by approximately half.



Preventing Motor Vehicle Injuries in Children


  • 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 among child passengers.

  • Car seat distribution plus education programs are also recommended in a more recent review for increasing restraint use. 

  • A study of five states that increased the age requirement to 7 or 8 years for car seat and 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%.

Guidelines for Parents and Caregivers

Know the stages

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

  • Rear-facing car seat: Birth until age 2-4. For the best possible protection, infants and toddlers should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat until they reach the upper weight or height limits of their seat. Check the seat owner’s manual and labels on the seat for weight and height limits.

  • Forward-facing car seat: After outgrowing rear-facing seat and until at least age 5. When children outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat until they reach the upper weight or height limit of their seat. Check the seat owner’s manual and labels on the seat for weight and height limits.

  • Booster seat: After outgrowing forward-facing seat and until seat belts fit properly. Once children outgrow their forward-facing 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). Proper seat belt fit usually occurs when children are about 4 feet 9 inches tall and 9-12 years old.

  • Seat belt: 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). Proper seat belt fit usually occurs when children are about 4 feet 9 inches tall and 9-12 years old. For the best possible protection, keep children properly buckled in the back seat.

  • Install and use car seats & booster seats properly. Install and use car seats and booster seats according to the seat owner’s manual, or get help installing them from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.

  • Find a child passenger safety technicianexternal icon.

  • Seat children in the back seat. Properly buckle all children aged 12 and under in the back seat.

  • Don’t seat children in front of an airbag. Airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat. Never place a rear-facing car seat in front of an air bag.

  • Seat children in the middle of the back seat. Properly buckle children in the middle of the back seat when possible, because it is the safest spot in the vehicle.14

  • Use proper restraints on every trip. Buckle children in car seats, booster seats, or seat belts on every trip, no matter how short the trip is.

  • Parents and caregivers: Always wear a seat belt. Set a good example by always using a seat belt yourself.

*Information in this article provided by the CDC.


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