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What you need to know about car seat safety for your kids

June 08, 2015

This post was written with Amber Yampolsky, PT, ATP, CPST, Physical Therapist at Arnold Palmer Hospital

As a therapist, it’s my job to help kids and their families recover after the trauma of a car accident. That’s why keeping kids safe is so near to my heart. I’ve partnered today with one of Arnold Palmer Hospital’s physical therapists, Amber Yampolsky, to bring you the latest on car seat safety. Amber is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician which is a specialty program developed in 1997 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Car seat safety technicians help provide assistance and education to families to ensure their children are transported safely. She also has training in transporting children with special needs. We are really proud to have Amber on our outpatient rehabilitation team.

Here’s the Truth

  • Car crashes are a leading cause of death in children.
  • More than 650 children under age 12 died in crashes in 2011. A third were not buckled up.
  • State car seat laws are helping, but Florida is one of only 12 states that only require children to be restrained until age 5 (a recent increase from age 3).
  • Most states require car seat use through age 7 and two states through age 8.
  • Great News! There has been a 43% decrease in motor vehicle deaths among children 12 and under in the past decade due to the efforts put into making both vehicles and restraints safer.

Current Recommendations for Car Seat Use in Florida:

  • Rear facing seat until age 2 or when the child reaches the upper height or weight limits of the car seat (usually about 35lbs). Rear facing is the safest position in the event of a crash so the longer they are positioned rear facing the better.
  • Forward facing seat with a 5-point harness until they reach the height and weight limits of the seat. Typically 40-65lbs.
  • Booster seat until the child is at least 4’9” tall (typically 8-12 years old). The booster seat allows for the shoulder belt to be positioned properly and minimize the risk of injury in a crash.
  • Children should ride in the back seat until they are 13 years old.
  • Car seats expire after 6 years
  • Never use a car seat after it has been in a crash

Time to Shop!

  • Rear Facing – these typically have a separate base so that the child can be taken in or out of the car while remaining in the car seat.   Look for rear facing car seats with higher weight limits of 35lbs so that you can keep your child rear facing as long as possible. Some also come on a sliding base to make room for their legs as they grow.
  • Convertible – can be positioned rear facing or forward facing. This offers a transition to allow for rear facing longer if your infant car seat only goes to 20 or 30lbs. Usually once you have reached the limits of the harness forward facing, you will then need to transition to a booster seat.
  • Forward Facing – allow for harness use typically up to 40 to 65lbs and then becomes a belt positioning booster seat. Some have the option of being a high back or a backless booster seat.
  • Booster Seat – either high back or backless, these allow for placement of the lap and shoulder belt in the proper position to minimize risk for injury to the neck or abdomen from the seat belt in the event of a crash.
  • Special Needs Custom Options -There are excellent custom options to keep your kids with special needs safe. Please contact your therapist or local Safe Kids chapter for a technician trained in special needs. Here at our hospital, Amber is also happy to help. If a traditional car seat does not meet your child’s needs, there’s a good chance insurance will cover the cost of a specialized seat.

Ensure the Safest Fit

  • Your best bet is to check with your sheriff’s office or visit to find a free car seat check near you.
  • Harness straps- In a rear facing seat they should be at or below their shoulders. In a forward facing seat they should be at or above their shoulders.
  • The chest clip should be positioned at their armpit level.
  • Placing extra (not designed as a part of the original seat) padding behind their head or over the shoulder straps can put your child at increased risk for injury.
  • Car seat protectors that are used under the car seat don’t allow for the car seat to be secured properly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and testing.
  • Cars manufactured after September 2002 have lower anchors in the seat and a top tether systems (LATCH). Using this LATCH system OR the seat belt system are both completely safe. Be aware that the lower anchors are typically only recommended up to 40 lbs which includes the weight of the car seat. After you pass the weight limit on your car’s anchor, switch to using the seat belt to secure the car seat.
  • If a top tether anchor is present in the car, you should always use it.
Whew! So if you’ve been feeling confused about all those straps, tethers and warnings, hopefully we’ve given you some answers. If you’re still looking for a little extra confidence in your car seat choice and installation check with your sheriff’s office, ask your physical or occupational therapist, or check out these resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Enjoy the ride!