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Recent changes to published guidelines have caused confusion and concern among parents who remain unclear about the differences between the laws and guidelines, and the impact on their children and family specifically. In addition to this confusion, the difference in safety requirements in just the space of a generation is very significant. Colloquial knowledge on the subject of car seats is simply not trustworthy, as parents and grandparents today will have experienced very different standards in their own childhood. American cars weren’t even universally required to have seat belts until 1966, let alone the specifically tiered safety seat systems we have today. All the advancement in knowledge and improvement in products that has occurred has resulted in a difficult answer to a simple question.
Child Safety in Motor Vehicles
The Laws, The Guidelines, and the Differences between them
In the United States and in Texas specifically, the information distributed about child seating in motor vehicles has caused much confusion. In large part, this is due to the fact that guidelines have been set for these standards, as opposed to more consequential regulations or laws. Texas law does not specify where in the vehicle a child is required to ride. However, the law does require that children under the age of 8 and under the height of 4’9” are secured in child passenger safety seat systems, and it also requires that these safety seat systems must be used according to manufacturer instructions.
Additional guidelines added to these baselines, state-imposed legal requirements are published by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Birth – 2 years: All infants and toddlers should be in rear-facing car seats until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Most children should stay in a rear-facing seat until 2 years of age, or longer if they’re of smaller length or weight than is average.
Over 2 years: Once the child has reached the recommended weight and height by the car seat instructions, they can move to a front-facing seat. The average child can move to a front-facing seat at over 2 years of age, and some child seats allow them to remain until they exceed as much as 65 pounds. Check what the safety seat manufacturer recommends for your child seat.
4 – 8 years: Children should be sitting in booster seats until the maximum height or weight limit is reached, as specified by the safety seat manufacturer. Your child can move to a booster seat by 4 years of age, or once they exceed 4 feet in height.
8 years old and above: Once weight and height requirements for booster seats have been passed, children can sit in the car seats designed for adults. Your child can stop using a booster seat between 8 to 12 years of age, once they exceed 4 feet 9 inches in height. In essence, booster seats should be used until your child can safely and securely wear an adult seat belt, with both the lap and shoulder belts in a comfortable position.
13 years old: Children may sit in the front seat with a seat belt if their height and weight have passed the booster seat limits.
If the endangerment to child passengers by neglecting to use or misusing child safety seats is not motivation enough, fines and jail time may add additional motivation to follow the law. Offenses under the Child Passenger Safety Seat Systems portion of Texas Occupant Restraint laws will always result in a fine, and these fines can climb to $250 dollars, plus court costs. Noncompliance with safety requirements for children can result in child endangerment charges for the driver.
Types of Seats and Safety Devices for Kids
Proper installation of car safety seats is extremely important. Be sure to review manufacturer instructions for the seat and confirm that the method with which it straps into your vehicle is compatible. When securing the seat and the child in it, ensure that all straps are tightened to the proper tension, the seat components are latched securely and correctly, there are no dangling or improperly place pieces, and any other applicable settings are correct.
Rear Facing: These seats are designed to be appropriate from the age up birth up to approximately 2 years, or whenever the child reaches 40 lbs. There are two versions of these car seats, infant-only and convertible. Keeping kids in rear-facing seats for as long as possible should be the goal, as it is the safest way to ride. Many manufacturers are designing these types of seats with a forty-pound weight limit, easily allowing children to continue riding in these seats past their second birthday.
Front Facing: These seats are designed to account for the optimal safety of a child who has outgrown the weight and height limits for a rear-facing seat. Many manufacturers offer models that can be turned around and have removable or adjustable pieces in order to accommodate growing kids.
Booster: These seats are designed to provide additional support for smaller bodies in the car’s adult seats, and work with the car’s safety belts. There are varieties of booster seats available, but they are typically designed for use until about age 8 or a height of 4’9”.
Adult Seats: After children have reached the age of 8, and/or exceeded the top height and weight limits for their booster seat, they can sit in the car seats alone. Children should remain in the backseat until at least the age of 13. Most cars are equipped with this information as a reminder on visors or other places in the vehicle, particularly in regard to the danger that front airbags pose to children, teenagers, and other smaller or younger bodies.
Belts: Built-in seat belts are designed for adults, but once a child reaches a height of at least 4’9” they are tall enough for the seat belt design to be effective for their safety. Seat belts are one of the most effective safety measures in modern vehicles, and wearing one improves survival rates for front-seat passengers in auto wrecks by 50%. Belts should be worn fitted to the body, with the lap belt across the hips and shoulder belt across the front center of the chest and over the shoulder. All automobile passengers are legally required to wear seat belts Texas. The increased safety they provide for all passengers is inarguable.
Tips for Child Car Seats
Entering a roadway always involves an element of risk, and nothing clarifies this more than traveling with children in the car. However, there are some steps you can take to mitigate this risk and to protect your loved ones. Here are a few recommendations for things to do before, during, and after the use of a car seat:
Be sure to replace child safety seats that have been in a crash, as the structural integrity of the seat and its components may have been compromised.
Check for product recalls with car seats, particularly when taking a car seat out of storage after a duration of time, or buying a used model, even from someone you trust. Manufacturers of car seats frequently provide expiration dates for their seats, often ranging from 6 to 8 years from the date of fabrication.
Makes sure car seats are strapped securely in with the appropriate belt OR latch method. Check that all components are uncompromised, in good working order, and are in the correct placement prior to starting or moving your vehicle.
Many manufacturers produce videos that can be accessed on their websites or YouTube with step by step tutorials for proper installation.
In very hot climates like Texas, check that the car seat components have not been compromised or damaged by the heat. Also, before securing your baby in the seat, check the temperature of the car seat pieces, including straps and buckles, to avoid burns.
Always wear your own seatbelt. Model this safe behavior for the kids in your car to see, every time you drive.
Injuries to Children in Auto Accidents
Children can be particularly susceptible to impact injuries, as their skeletal system is not done growing. Infants are born with about 300 separate bones, and the process of development and fusion resulting in the approximate 206 bones of a human adult takes place until growth stops, around age 25. Tragically, beyond the potential for serious injuries being sustained, over 85 children under the age of 12 have died in car accidents, every year for the past 5 years, with the most fatalities totaling 106 in 2014. A considerable portion of these outcomes could have been different with appropriate safety seat and restraint use.
If your child has been hurt in a motor vehicle accident, do not hesitate to take every measure necessary to ensure their full recovery physically and emotionally. Any necessary surgeries, treatments, medications, and therapies advised by your healthcare professionals should be carefully followed. You can focus on what is important while your team helps with everything else.
Thompson Law Cares
At Lion Law, we understand the value of family. Nothing is more important and prescient than keeping your loved ones as safe as possible in vulnerable situations, such as on the roadway. When accidents happen, and especially when they result in injury to your children, you deserve help handling the aftermath. Ryan “The Lion” Thompson and his experienced team of legal experts have handled a wide variety of cases with a wide variety of victims. The robust litigation experience and compassionate handling of your claim set this group of attorneys apart. The Thompson Law approach results in life-changing settlements for our clients. If you or your family have been injured in an accident, the time to reach out for help is now Contact. Allow yourself and your loved ones your full attention in the process of healing and recovery, as Thompson Law takes on the at-fault parties and big insurance companies, fighting for the justice and compensation you deserve.