Most U.S. Kids Not Sitting Safely in Cars

Car SeatA new study has found that most American children are either improperly restrained in child car seats, or they are allowed to sit in the front seat, in defiance of government car safety recommendations. has more:

Researchers observed nearly 22,000 children and found that just 3 percent of children between ages 1 and 3 who were restrained at all were sitting in a proper, rear-facing car seat [you can switch your child to a front-facing car seat at age 2 or when he reaches the seat's weight or height limit], and only 10 percent of 8- to 10-year-old children were properly restrained in a booster seat or a car seat.

The difficulty people have in adhering to car safety regulations may show how dramatically they’ve changed in recent years, said the study’s author, Dr. Michelle Macy, of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “For parents, it’s not anything they would have done as kids,” she said.

In the U.S., car crashes are the leading cause of death for children over age 3, however, and more than 140,000 children go to emergency rooms each year as a result of accidents. Properly seating a child in a car seat or booster seat, and in the back seat, reduces the risk of injury or death, but many parents don’t follow the guidelines, the researchers said.


Image: Baby in Car Seat via OLJ Studio/

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  1. [...] Most US kids not sitting safely in cars. ( [...]

  2. by AJ

    On August 10, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Wait, what? Rear facing until 3 now?? The law says age 1, the current recommendations are until age 2. I am aware that rear facing is considered safer and a child can stay rear facing as long as they are within the guidelines for their individual car seat. A 2.5 yo is hardly “improperly restrained” just because they are forward facing.

  3. by barb

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:05 am

    My eight year old is pushing 5 feet and is 101 lbs. We don’t allow him to sit in the front but he is too big for a booster. My three year old is too tall for her 5 point car seat and we are moving her to the booster.
    These recommenations need to be made in height ad weight not age. When out new pediatrician met my eight, she thought he was eleven based on his size.

  4. by Kristi Bennett

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:11 am

    I have heard it was recommended for children to now sit rear facing until the age of two but it is NOT a law, at least not in Ga. If that is a Federal law, it needs to be made known because no one I knows has heard of it being a law and some of my friends are (to me) overly cautious about everything – they would know if it was a law; so you might want to double check that before stating is a a fact. And while forward facing may not be the safest way for a child to sit, you aren’t taking other considerations into thought, such as when a child screams EVERY time she is placed in the car UNLESS she is forward facing. It isn’t safe to leave the child rear facing if all the driver is hearing is screaming and NOTHING else works. My son Jax is 10 months old and he’s a big boy, as big as his two year old sister but he’s okay riding rear facing so I’ll leave him that way as long as he’s happy with it; my older four children were forward facing at one also but they are now teens and tweens.

  5. by amie

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Got my carseats checked yesterday and it turns out that we were told that they were incorrectly placed in the center seat; the armrest would just come down and smack the baby if there were an accident. We always thought the center was the safest place. Go figure.

  6. by Kc

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:15 am

    What do I do if my 6 month old is reaching the highest car seat belt level and her other seat is a front face one! We use the chicco car seat and her other seat is the graco one

  7. by Dana

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I have little ones under one, who are obviously in car seats but I cannot imagine putting my 8 year old in a booster seat. He is 4’8″ and 88 lbs, very built from all of his athletic activities. While we do not permit him to sit in the front, I think forcing him into a booster seat in the back of the car is cruel and dangerous. I like recommendations made in inches and pounds as opposed to ages, I think it provides better for kids who are either larger or smaller for their age.

  8. by W. V.

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:34 am

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. In a culture where many forward-face simply they want to see the child, this is bound to happen. I agree with commenters who think weight and height should be factors, not age. I totally disagree with the poster who said it is cruel and dangerous to have an 8 yr old in a booster. My 8 yr old Godson rides in a booster because he is tall but very lean. If the child needs it, it’s not cruel. I always say do what is safe and works for your family. We rear-face our 3 yr old because it is safer and he doesn’t fight it at all. He will stay that way until he is too tall or he hits 4.

  9. by WV

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I must revise one of my comments. I thought pp was saying it was cruel to force any 8 yr old into a booster. I re-read and see she was speaking only of her own child. #MyBad

  10. by Kayle

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I completely agree that the decision to forward face should be up to the height and weight if the child..not age. My children are tall for their age (they were both 22inches when they were born). So to me having my youngest rear facing until 2 seems unsafe to me. I say this because her feet are already touching the back seat in her convertible car seat. I wouldn’t think it would be safe for her to stay rear facing until two became by then her knees would be in her chest in the seat (and to me that would not be comfortable nor think it would be safe for her in an accident). Unless you have a van that you can turn the whole seat around keeping the child rear facing until 2, then I don’t see how they can make it a law because they would have to completely redesign seats in vehicles as well as car seats to keep the kids legs from being squished in their laps.

  11. by E

    On September 23, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Try telling an 8 year old girl to sit in a booster..

  12. by amanda

    On September 23, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I have a 26lb 27 month old rear facing. yes, her legs are bent but she seems comfortable and does not complain. even after we had been at grandma’s house and she rode ffing for a few weeks due to having no other choice. she was fine returning to rfing once we returned home. I also have a 30lb 15 month old rfing. my 15 year old sits in the front forward facing without a booster :) however, if i had a car, i would probably have to forward face to 2 year old just because the middle backseat would be rendered useless with 2 rfing seats. i reallllly want to put my 27 month old ffing but i just can’t bring myself to do it knowing that she is safer rfing.

  13. by cs

    On September 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

    I agree that it is not the law to have a child in rear facing until two. All 3 of my children moved up to a forward 5 point harness car seat at the age of 1. My son is now 6 and no longer uses his booster, he sits in the middle in the back seat, my 4yo daughter uses a booster and my 2yo uses a forward facing car seat. And they are perfectly fine. The law was for up until age 6 for boosters, and i am not sure why it changed. They need to go off of weight and the way a persons car is set up, not age. And yes sometimes my 6 year old sits in the front and that’s because i have little ones in the back and that’s the only spot. He is buckled in the middle seat in the front and is fine. To each their own i say. Back in the 80′s and 90′s kids did not have boosters, some didn’t use car seats over age 2-3, people sat on people’s laps in the car or in the back of a truck. And most of us are all fine. Just use good judgement and your child will be fine.

  14. by Elizabeth

    On September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am

    My rear facing Evenflo Tribute car seat goes up to 40 lbs. and 40″ tall. My daughter is currently 23 lbs. and 32.5 inches. I plan on keeping her rear facing as long as possible. I have to laugh at some of the comments I have seen on various baby boards. It is like reading a comment from a petulant teenager… “No one is going to make me do anything I don’t want to”. I think it should be common sense to want to protect your child. However some parents want to be a RIGHT fighter at all costs. Our babies were scrunched up in the womb for 8 to 9 months. My daughter happened to be a 35 wk. preemie. It’s not going to hurt them to have to bend thier legs in a rear facing seat! Half the time my 16 mo. old has one foot/shoe in her hand and is studying it while I drive. I would much rather have a safe baby that I cannot see than be distracted by a FF baby that I might be looking at in the rear view window.

  15. by Jen

    On September 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I can understand the reason for safety. But what happens when you got a 4’5″ adult who doesn’t ride with a booster seat? You going to make them use a booster too because they are too short. How about our car companies actually make seat belts work for children and adults of all heights after they are 5 years old. My oldest didn’t hit 4’9″ until she was 13, my son whom is almost 8 probably won’t be there until he is 14 years old, and my third child she will be 4’9″ at about 9 years old. Personally the point of growing up, is to ditch the car seats unless your a very short person once you hit middle school and especially high school. No one should have to ride in a booster seat or car seat at that age. As for the 1 or 2 year mark for rear facing. Everyone age birth through 100 years old would be better off rear facing, but that is just plain idiotic. Rear facing to at least one year old and a minimum weight and height limit isn’t a bad idea. I just turned my daughter forward facing last week. She is 18 months old and is 21 pounds and 31 inches tall. My other children we’re turned around at age one and not a day before regardless of their height and weight for safety. Change recommendations to suit cars, trucks and vans separately and only go by weight and height after age 3. Not their age. There are a lot of big kids who are young, and a lot of little kids who are older. My almost 8 year old son will not be going without a booster until I feel his seat belt fits him properly in our van, same thing with the rest of my kids. My oldest who is almost 14, went without a booster at age 7, but we had a itty bitty car where the seat belt fit right and her legs bent over the seat so it worked. I just hate seeing kids under age 6 without a car seat or booster of any kind sitting in the front seat and often not even using a seat belt while they’re parents drive them around. That is unsafe, especially since they give out licenses to just about any body on the road whether than can drive or not.

  16. by Anne

    On September 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I have to agree with Elizabeth. Shouldn’t your child’s safety come first? I have a hard time reading someone saying their “child is fine” doing something that has been scientifically shown over and over to NOT be safe. Sure, your kid has been fine thus far, but I’m guessing you haven’t been in a full-blown accident which is what we’re talking about here. And it will be too late if (heaven forbid) that does happen and you’re really putting your practices to the test. There’s a reason why these laws are in place. And just because its not yet a law in your state…does that mean that kids in your state are somehow immune to being injured in car accidents so you shouldn’t even consider it? I’ve seen family members in each of these age groups (the 8 year old girl, the tall 2 year old–my own!, etc.) and they’ve all done what we’ve told them to do…because that’s what kids do. They do what their parents tell them to do b/c their parents are the ONLY ones ultimately responsible for looking out for them. It may not be easy, it may not be pleasant, but eventually they go with the flow (because they realize you won’t budge on a safety issue). And I’d much rather hear my child screaming in the back (which, I’m guessing would eventually stop, particularly if you tried to think of other ways to distract him, etc.) than to not hear him/her make any noise at all because he/she was killed in an accident.

  17. by Jessica

    On September 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    “Try telling an 8yr old girl to ride in a booster”?

    If you never gave her the option of riding without one, she never would have become accustomed to riding in just a seat belt.

    I am very saddened to see that so many parents will jeopardize their child’s safety, even after seeing statistics from crashes, and reading the new recommendations from the Am. Academy of Pediatrics and National Highway Safety Patrol!!!

  18. by prf

    On September 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    My 9 yr.old daughter rides in a booster. There shouldn’t be a question or her decision to ride in one just because her ‘friends’ don’t. Children’s safety should be first. Parents who give up control to thier young children, especially when it comes to an important subject, is appauling.

  19. by Megan

    On September 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    The rear facing until 2 is not a law, it is a recommendation. Recent studies show that it is safest for a child to ride rear facing until they reach the rear facing height and or weight limit. If you want to follow the recent guidelines, there are several new car seats that are being made to accommodate these new recommendations. I suggest one talk to a specialist who knows about car seats and can show you all you need to know about purchasing the right one for your child. I don’t know where people are getting age is the only factor. My daughters car seat has a rear facing weight of 40 pounds, a forward facing weight of 65 pounds and a booster seat weight of 100 pounds. She’s currently 13 months and has tons of room for her legs (as there is a special recline feature on the seat for the rear facing position). This article is pointing out how many children are not riding safely in a car seat. I think that the percentage is crazy, especially with all the options there are available (free car seats if you cannot afford one, people to check and teach you how to properly install a car seat and how to strap in your child). It’s up to parents to keep their children safe, they cannot do it own their own.

  20. by S

    On September 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    What’s ‘cruel’ is depriving your child of the safest seating arrangement possible. Quit making excuses. Any questionable decisions made when it comes to child restraints are normally for either the parent/child’s comfort, or ignorance. Educate yourself and suck it up. I would rather my child be a little uncomfortable or not be able to see them than God forbid something happen that could have been prevented. As a parent it is your responsibility to keep your children as safe as possible.

  21. by kiki

    On September 23, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    I think it’s crazy that a parent would rather have their child sit forward facing and be less safe because they won’t cry that way. Do you let your child stick his finger in an elecrtical socket because if you tell him no he cries? They keep raising the age recommendation because they are realizing how unsafe it is for children to be forward facing! The major issue is that when forward facing the childs neck is snapped forward and at a young age even at 4 or 5 their neck is not as strong as an adults and will snap their spine and even spinal cord and kill your child. I have heard arguements about it not being safe because rear facing could break their legs and though it could I think I would agree with the saying casket or cast-it? Which would you choose? Come on people do some research. Look up some car seat studies on youtube. If after seeing that you don’t attempt to keep your child rear facing as long as possible you are ignorant. As for booster seats? I would agree that it should legally depend on weight and height but many boosters list specific height and weight limits for the seat. I suppose the best thing you can do is follow that. I wish people would quit being so stubborn and get educated about things before deciding what is best for saving their childs life.

  22. by Kat

    On September 23, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    It is possible to get a car seat for larger kids. My 3 year old is off the charts for height and weight. I took a tape measure when going car seat shopping. Yes I had to buy another seat that I hadn’t planned on but it is worth it for my Childs safety. Also if you think all is fine using your common sense then you haven’t been in an accident with your kids or seen the aftermath of one. Mose state laws are made based on height and weight so look up the laws and recommendations.

  23. by Joel

    On September 23, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Whatever happened to common sense? The best way to safeguard your kids, and yourself is not “proper” nor legal restraint; but driving slowly, carefully, sensibly and defensively! Rules should be based on size not age! And the fact that government is so injected into our private lives is dismaying! Americans don’t realize the great extent that their freedoms have been limited by government, unconstitutionally!

  24. by ash

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with most of you and regardless of what this article says if you go look up your state laws on carseats they go by height and weight. There is a difference between laws and recommendations. Not every 1 yr old is the same size and not ever 25 lb kid is built the same way. Parents need to learn to be parents and do what is best for their kids. You shouldn’t have to read a book to know how to raise your kids. Yes advice is good and laws should be followed but you need to make your own decisions based on your own child.

  25. by dansci

    On September 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    My son is 23 months, 31 lbs and 35 inches. He is rear-facing and will stay thay way until he reaches the 40 lb weight limit of the carseat. He does not cry but even if he did- I would rather him cry, have squished legs, not be able to look out the window, or any other ridiculous reason people have for not rear-facing- than be dead! There are NO reported incidents of broken legs in a child rear-facing when in an accident. Please look up internal decapitation. Just because it is legal to forward-face at 1 year, does not mean it is safe! It is also legal to drink yourself to death- also not safe! Remember, Broken Leg = Cast It, Broken Neck = Casket

  26. by Court

    On September 24, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Car seat laws should be by weight and height only not age at all since that varies so much. That being said my 5 year old is in a 5 point harness forward facing and was rear facing until she outgrew her seat at the age of 25 months. My 7 year old is in a high back booster (not just a booster) and will be until he outgrows that. He was rear facing until 22 months old and in his 5 point harness until the age of 5.5 years.

    As for being uncomfortable or not safe rear facing when their legs get too long the worst that would happen is a broken leg. The worst from forward facing is internal decapatation which almost always results in death. Sorry I will take a broken leg any day.

    I am a former EMT and have seen too many things that could have been prevented or the severity of the injuries lessened if the child were in the car seat properly. Properly does NOT mean what the law says. That is a minimum. My children are not minimums in my life and will be in their seats until they reach the maximum height and weight limits of each seat.

  27. by Elizabeth

    On September 24, 2012 at 9:07 am

    I just recently had this discussion with my mother and everyone who drives my daughter around. My daughter just turned one yesterday she is 22.5 lbs and 28.5 inches tall. Legally she can front face now and many people have tried to get me to front face her. I choose not to because even though she is about the size of my 2 yr old nephew, I feel that she is too small to FF and her carseat can RF up to 35 lb so she will be RF until she reaches that weight limit. I have told many people that if they can’t respect my wishes then they don’t need to take my child anywhere without me. My daughter’s safty is number 1 priority. You can be the world’s greatest driver, but you have to remember that it’s not just you on the road.

  28. by Sarah

    On September 24, 2012 at 9:48 am

    We were in a car accident last week and my Suburban rolled at least twice. The police officer said that we did a very good job of installing the car seats and fastening the girls in them. If not for that, they probably wouldn’t be here right now. They are 2 and were forward facing. They didn’t have a scratch on them. We were very fortunate. It’s not difficult to follow car seat safety regulations and I am so thankful that we did!

  29. by Erica

    On September 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

    I have a 22 month old who is rear facing and always has been. She is tall and her legs reach the seat an are a little squished, but she just crosses them and she is fine. She does not fight being rear facing and I will have her rear facing for as long as possible because it is safer. A leg injury is a lot less fatal than a head injury because of a crash, and rear facing protects the head a lot better. I cannot turn her around no matter how much I want to see her in the mirror because her safety is so much more important. Safety is more important than how much they scream or fight it. I just don’t see how you can not make the safest choice just because the child doesn’t like it. I will do everything to keep her as safe as possible.

  30. by SH

    On September 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    My son just turned two. His daddy faced him forward at 23 months, he sits in the middle of the rear seat, in a coupe. I turned him just before two. I wanted to keep him RF, but I couldn’t get him in the seat easily without straining my back and squishing him into a “c” shape. I have a Jeep Patriot and he sits right behind me. I feel that the side curtain airbags and my Britax seat will protect him. He never complained about RF, so I’m fortunate for that. I got the best car seat I could afford and when I got my car, I did consider where he would sit. Yes, I tried his seat out in several cars to find a roomy one. One thing I like about the Jeep is the rear seats recline, which gave my son extra leg room. My Mom’s Dodge Journey is the same way.

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  34. by Erin

    On October 11, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I just purchased a rear-facing seat for my almost two-year-old because he outgrew his first rear-facing seat. I’ll keep him in it as long as he fits. He doesn’t mind being rear facing because we’ve installed a mirror so he can see me, and I can see him while driving. I recently heard a story on the radio about a 3-year-old who was paralyzed after a car accident because the whiplash effect broke his neck. (The story mentioned that at 3, a child’s head is still proportionally “too big” for his neck, increasing the risk for these kinds of injuries.) It was a tough story that changed my mind about rear-facing.

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