buckle up and be a seat belt role modelNext week, September 15-21, 2019, is Child Passenger Safety Week in Maryland. The Maryland Highway Safety Office participates in this annual awareness campaign each year with the goal of providing parents and caregivers with resources about proper car seat and booster seat use. Every time your child rides in the car, they should be buckled into the appropriate safety seat.

Maryland Car Seat Laws

Maryland child passenger safety laws require all children under the age of eight to ride in a safety seat unless they’re taller than 4 foot 9 inches. Note, the seat must be federally approved, meeting all current safety standards. Due to continuing improvements in safety technologies, car seats expire six years after manufacture.

AAP Recommendations for Rear-Facing

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations in 2018 indicating that it is best to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. They say:

  • At a minimum, your child should ride rear-facing until the age of two. The child’s size, not age, should determine when you turn their seat position. Because car seat manufacturers now design car seats safe for kids 40 pounds and over to ride rear-facing, it’s much easier to keep them riding this way longer term.
  • It’s safe for kids to ride rear-facing even if their feet touch the back seat. It may look uncomfortable to you as an adult, but kids are just fine with it. Plus, it is safer for them in a crash.
  • Only move the child to a belt-positioning booster seat after they outgrow their car seat. Consult the manufacturer’s recommendations for the height and weight limits. Again, it’s best to keep them in the car seat as long as possible because each of these changes decreases their safety.

Why Rear-Facing is Safest for Young Children

Car seats are designed to distribute the impact of a crash along the child’s body. Babies and toddlers are more fragile, in part because their spines are still forming. Their spinal cords are protected by cartilage, which turns into bone as they grow. Until it turns to bone, it remains flexible, leaving the spinal cord vulnerable.

In a head-on collision, a rear-facing child will be cradled by their car seat. Their position means a very limited range of motion for their head and neck. If the same child is front-facing, their head will flop forward in a frontal collision. Think about how forcefully your head falls forward in a crash, or even a sudden stop, when you’re wearing a three-point seat belt. This could cause a devastating, possibly fatal spinal injury to a forward-facing infant.

So, while many parents are tempted to turn their kids’ seats to front-facing as soon as possible so that they can more easily see them or hand them snacks, it’s really best to postpone front-facing as long as possible.

Most Common Car Seat Mistakes

Turning the child to a front-facing position too soon is one of the most common mistakes people make with car seats. Some others include:

  • Wrong harness positioning. For rear-facing, thread the belt so the top is below the child’s shoulders. For front-facing, it should be above the child’s shoulders.
  • Incorrect clip positioning. Don’t think of it like a three-point seat belt that fastens over the child’s lap. With a five-point harness, the clip should be at chest level so that it supports the child’s body and properly positions the shoulder belts.
  • Leaving the belts too loose. The child’s body could slip out during a crash if the belts are not secure. You should be able to slip your fingers beneath the belt, but not pinch a section of the fabric between your fingers.
  • Incorrect installation. Inspection surveys report that more than 75% of car seats are not installed properly.

Is Your Car Seat Installed Correctly?

The Maryland KISS (Kids in Safety Seats) program regularly offers car seat checks across the state. Many are by appointment only, so check individual listings for details. See the Maryland KISS page for more information about the program.