New U.S. Guidelines on Child Safety Restraints

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced its "Most Wanted List" for transportation safety improvements. While the list included action items such as improving motorcycle safety and reducing distracted driving, the agency also hopes to improve child occupant protection through the enactment of booster seat laws for children. Consistent with the NTSB mission, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published new child safety seat guidelines.

The revised AAP guidelines recommend that parents keep their infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until 2 years of age. This is a change from the previous guidelines, which were updated in 2002.

Previously, the pediatric association recommended rear-facing car seats for those infants and toddlers that had reached manufacturer's specified weights and heights, or until the child was at least a year old and weighed at least 20 pounds. Additionally, the amended guidelines suggest that children over age 2 should use forward-facing safety seats with harnesses, and that booster seats should be used for children under 4 feet 9 inches, or who are between the ages of 8 and 12.

The change has been prompted by research published in the Injury Prevention Journal. In this 2007 study, University of Virginia researchers compared the injury risk between rear-facing car seats (RFCS) and forward-facing car seats (FFCS) for children less than 2 years of age. Using NHTSA crash data for 1988 to 2003, researchers found that, for all crash types, children in FFCSs were significantly more likely to be seriously injured than children in rear-facing restraints.

Complementing the AAP recommendations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued new guidelines for child safety seats as well. The NHTSA confirms that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for young children. With child safety as an agency priority, the administration sets guidelines for the manufacturers and has the power to recall defective child safety restraints. The NHTSA has found that when properly used, car restraints for children reduce fatalities by 71 percent.

Although the number of children killed in motor vehicle accidents has fallen significantly, car accidents remain the leading cause of death for small children. With these new guidelines, parents and safety professionals need to be aware and understand the significance of these changes in order to continue saving precious lives in the event of serious car accidents.