Child Passenger Safety: Car Seats Save Lives and Prevent Injuries

Buckle Up Every Age, Every Seat, Every Trip

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%.
Video Source: Car Seat Safety By Age: Infants in Rear-facing Seats (The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
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Child Passenger Safety: Get the Facts

Scope of the Problem

Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. But many of these deaths can be prevented.
  • In the United States, 723 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes during 2016,4 and more than 128,000 were injured in 2016.
  • One CDC study found that, in one year, more than 618,000 children ages 0-12 rode in vehicles without the use of a child safety seat or booster seat or a seat belt at least some of the time.
  • Of the children ages 12 years and younger who died in a crash in 2016 (for which restraint use was known), 35% were not buckled up.

Risk Factors for Children & Teens

  • Of the children who died in a crash:
  • More black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children were not buckled up compared with white (26%) children (2009-2010; aged 12 and under).
  • More of the older children (48% of 8-12 year olds) were not buckled up compared with younger children (33% of 4-7 year olds; 21% of <4 year olds) in 2016 (with known restraint use).
  • From 2001 to 2010, approximately 1 in 5 child (<15 years old) passenger deaths in the U.S. involved drunk driving; 65% of the time, it was the child’s own driver that had been drinking (BAC ≥ 0.08 g/dl).
  • Most child passengers (<15 years old) of drunk drivers (61%) were not buckled up in the fatal crash.
  • Restraint use among young children often depends upon the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.
  • Child restraint systems are often used incorrectly. An estimated 46% of car and booster seats (59% of car seats and 20% of booster seats) are misused in a way that could reduce their effectiveness.

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 to seat belt use alone.
  • Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged 4–8 years 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 to 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/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%.

Know the stages

Make sure children are properly buckled up 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’s owner’s manual and/or labels on the seat for weight and height limits.

Forward-facing car seat: After outgrowing rear-facing seat 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’s owner’s manual and/or 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 age 9-12 years.

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 age 9-12 years. For the best possible protection, keep children properly buckled in the back seat.

Install and Use Car & Booster Seats Properly

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


Seat Children in the Back Seat
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
Buckle children in the middle of the back seat when possible, because it is the safest spot in the vehicle.

Use Proper Restraints Every Trip
Buckle children in car seats, booster seats, or seat belts on every trip, no matter how short.

Parents and Caregivers: Always Wear a Seat Belt
Set a good example by always using a seat belt themselves.