The right child seat belt safety for all ages

Linda Melone

Knowing the proper laws and recommendations for seat belt and safety restraints can mean the difference between life and death for young children. Motor vehicle crashes were the main cause of death for children aged 1 to 17 years between 1999 and 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A June 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic The study found that most children age 3 and under were properly protected. However, of all children under age 5 who were killed in car crashes, nearly 50 percent were completely unrestrained.

seat belt safetySo how can you keep your child safe in the car?

5 child seat belt safety tips by age

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends always using a seat belt, even on short trips and to follow these guidelines:

1. Birth to age 2: For best protection use a rear-facing child safety seat until the child reaches the weight or height limits of the seat.

2. Ages 2 to 4 or up to 40 lbs.: Forward-facing seats in the backseat of the vehicle offer best protection for this age and weight range up to the limits of the seat as determined by the manufacturer of the car seat.

3. Ages 4 to 8 or until 4 foot 9 inches tall: Booster seats work best for this age group. The child should ride belted into the booster seat in the back seat for best protection (booster seats reduce injury risk by 59 percent compared with seat belts alone, according to a 2011 study by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

4. After age 8 and/or 4 foot 9 inches tall: Children this age and height should wear seat belts (which include lap and shoulder belts) without booster seats.

5. All children younger than 13: Children this age should ride in the back seat, as airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat if an accident occurs.

Child seat belt safety

Proper child seat safety reduces the risk of death by 54 percent for toddlers and 71 percent for toddlers in passenger cars, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Safety belt laws exist in all states except New Hampshire, according to the Insurance Information Institute and all 50 states and the District of Columbia enforce child restraint laws.

If you fail to obey the laws and end up in an accident, your insurance company may cover you, even if your child wasn’t properly restrained, says Robert Ryan Jr., president of Ryan & Ryan Insurance Brokers Inc. in New York. However, the insurer is unlikely to renew your policy.  

“And you can expect to pay more to the next carrier as a result of your negligent behavior,” Ryan adds.

If your child is injured in an accident, even if your child isn’t properly restrained, your policy’s personal injury protection (the part of your policy that covers health expenses) will cover you, Ryan says. New York has a no-fault or personal injury protection built into all auto policies for a minimum of $50,000, although you can buy more coverage up to $100,000.

However, if your child rides in a vehicle that belongs to someone else, such as a family friend, and he isn’t properly restrained when an accident occurs, the vehicle owner is liable for damages even if the owner wasn’t at fault, says Bruce Robins, President of Robins Insurance Agency in Nashville, TN. 

If your child is in your own car, and you’re involved in an accident where the other driver is at fault, the other person is responsible for injuries to your child. 

But if the other driver doesn’t have insurance or has low levels of coverage, then you must file a claim on your own policy under the uninsured/underinsured motorist part of your policy, Robins says. “This replaces the liability coverage the other person should carry.”

Child safety seat state laws

Child restraint laws vary from state-to-state. Here are some examples of state laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Twenty-nine states require booster seats or restraints for children 7 and younger.

Booster seat rules for other states include:

  • Age 3 and younger: Florida.
  • Age 4 and younger: South Dakota.
  • Age 5 and younger: Nevada, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.
  • Age 6 and younger: Idaho, New Mexico, North Dakota, Kentucky, Missouri and Connecticut.
  • Age 7 and younger: (most states; for a state-by-state rundown of child seat state laws, you can view the map at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website.)
  • Age 8 and younger: Wyoming and Tennessee.

If you’re caught not following state child seat safety laws, the maximum base fine ranges from $10 up to $500 (Nevada).

And if you’re caught breaking child seat safety laws for a second time, you can expect to pay a lot more. In Illinois, a first offense carries a $75 fine and $200 for a second offense. In Texas a first offense costs you $25 and a second offense is $200.

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