toddler in a car seat

Research from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) showed that in the year 2000, child safety seats reduced fatal injury by 71 percent for infants younger than one year old, and by 54 percent for toddlers aged one to four. Today, every state has a law requiring small children to be restrained in federally approved child safety seats while riding in a car. Recently, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released updated safety seat recommendations suggesting that parents use safety seats and boosters for even longer than formerly suggested.

Parents want to keep kids safe, but sometimes kids don't like car seats and booster seats. What's the best way to get them to comply?

New Car Seat Recommendations
Use a rear-facing seat until the age of two.
According to the new recommendations, parents should continue to place their children in rear-facing car seats until the age of two, or until they outgrow the height and weight limits of the seat. Prior recommendations set a limit at the age of one, or 20 pounds, but new evidence shows that older children who stay in rear-facing seats have a lower risk of injury in a variety of crashes. A rear-facing seat supports the child's whole body, while a young child in a front-facing seat can suffer head and neck injuries.

Use a forward-facing seat with harness for as long as possible.
New recommendations suggest that once a child is old enough to face front, parents should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. This means up to the maximum height or weight allowed by the seat's manufacturer, or at least until the child is four years old.

Use a booster seat with car seatbelt until the child is four feet, nine inches tall.
Previous recommendations suggested that children use booster seats until the age of eight or so, but according to the AAP, that recommendation didn't take into account the different sizes of children. The new limit of four feet, nine inches tall is based on the body size at which a seatbelt will fit properly across the chest and lap. For some children, that could mean they'll use a booster seat until they're 12 years old.

Talking to Your Child About the New Recommendations
The NHTSA admits that for many children, the new recommendations will seem like a drag. Moms know that getting kids to stay in a booster seat, for example--especially if they see their friends not using one--can be a difficult chore. Dr. Dennis Durbin, scientific director of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and lead author of the AAP's new policy statement, has stated that when it comes to traveling in a car safety really shouldn't be negotiable.

To make it easier, try explaining to your child how he or she fits differently in the vehicle because of his or her height and weight. The booster seat helps the belt cover the right places--the shoulder bone, chest bone, and hip bones, as opposed to the soft belly. Talk about what could happen if a cat runs out in front of the car, for instance, and you have to stomp on the brakes. Explain that a seat belt, properly fitted, can help keep him or her safe, while a seat belt in the wrong place could hurt.

Next, talk about the benefits of the car seat or booster seat--how it helps your child to see out the window, prevents slouching, and keeps the seat belt from irritating the neck. Consider placing stickers in a special notebook in the car. Reward your child with a sticker every time he or she rides nicely in the booster. So many stickers could warrant an award, like your child's choice of music on the radio for the next car trip. When getting a new booster seat, take your child with you so he or she can help select it.

Your children may not like it, but you could be saving their lives.