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Car Safety: Infants

Car travel should be a safe and pleasant time for you and your baby. By law, infants and children must ride in crash-tested, child restraints. Never ride with your child on your lap, in a portable crib or in a car bed. Make sure the car safety seat you select fits your child – a smaller child could slip out of a seat that is too large.

About child safety seats

  • Infants should ride in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 2 years of age. This is the best way to protect the infant's neck. The rear middle seat is always the safest place for your infant, even if you are the only adult in the car.
  • LATCH is a way to attach child safety seats without using seat belts. LATCH has been required on most child safety seats and vehicles since 2002. A LATCH child safety seat fastens to lower anchors and a tether anchor in a LATCH-equipped vehicle. (Most rear-facing infant seats do not need a top tether strap or hook.)
  • Some safety seats cannot be installed properly in some cars. Check before you buy a car seat to make sure that it will work with your vehicle. Never accept a used safety seat that is missing any parts or instructions, is more than 10 years old, or one that has been in a crash.
  • Make sure the car seat is installed correctly in the car. Carefully read the instructions for how to install the safety seat correctly. Check your owner’s manual to make sure you know where to install the seat in your vehicle.
  • If you aren't sure if your seat fits properly in your car, contact a children's hospital or local fire department. Many of them have a child seat loaner program and can help you find a seat that fits properly. They can also help you install it correctly. Your car insurance company may also offer a child seat loaner program. You can also contact your state highway safety program.
  • For specific questions about how to install and use your car seat, call SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. at 800-745-SAFE, Web site http://www.carseat.org or the National Auto Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236, Web site http://www.nhtsa.gov.
  • Infants with special health problems or medical conditions may need other restraint systems. Talk with your healthcare provider or contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Auto Safety Hotline.
  • Keep harness straps very snug to allow no more than 1 inch movement from side to side or front to back. Make the harness clips even with the baby's armpits.
  • Support a tiny infant by placing rolled towels, diapers, or receiving blankets on both sides of the safety seat to keep the head from falling side to side. Or buy a head support.

Car Travel

In cold weather, instead of a bulky snowsuit, dress the baby in a lightweight jacket and hat and tuck a blanket around the baby for warmth. Never allow your sleeping baby's head to be covered with a blanket (or comforter or quilt) in bed or in a car safety seat. Pillows, blankets, and stuffed toys could cause a baby to suffocate or strangle.

  • When your baby is awake and quiet, jabbering, or looking around, sing or hum songs, or talk about what you are doing or where you are going. Your baby will learn to enjoy car travel because you are fun to ride with. If your baby has a favorite blanket, place it within her reach.
  • Carry 1 or 2 soft, stuffed toys that are played with only in the car. This helps decrease boredom. Your baby's attention span is very short. Don't expect her to stay occupied for more than a couple of minutes at a young age.
  • As your child gets older, ignore yelling, screaming, and begging. The instant your baby is quiet, start talking or singing to her again. Do not take your child out of the safety seat because she is crying. Doing so will only teach her to keep crying until you take her out. Try to take her out only when she is quiet.
  • Do not have heavy or sharp objects in the car. A sudden stop can cause them to shift and injure passengers. Try to keep all loose packages in the trunk or secured in the back of the car.
  • Children can get burns from hot seatbelts and harness buckles. Cover metal parts during hot weather.
  • Put shades on the windows in the back to protect your baby from bright sun. Don’t use a hood to protect your infant from the sun because it can reduce the airflow around baby’s head and lead to overheating.
  • Make sure all doors are locked before staring the car. As your child gets older, teach never to play with doors and locks.
  • Before a long trip, be sure your baby is fed and freshly diapered.
  • During longer trips, allow for frequent rest stops. Take infants out of car seats and place them on their back or tummy to relax muscles.
  • If you think your child needs feeding or a diaper change, try to stop before she starts to fuss.
  • If your baby is going to travel in a car with other drivers (grandparent, aunt, uncle, or baby sitter), make sure they use the safety seat, and make sure it is installed correctly.
  • Park where you can remove your child from the car on the sidewalk side away from traffic.
  • Never leave a child alone in a parked car, even for a minute.
    • Children can get heat stroke, even with a window rolled down. This can happen even if they are left in the car for only a few minutes.
    • A child playing with the driver’s controls can start the car rolling.
    • A child can be strangled if a power window goes up while he or she is leaning out.
    • A child can get trapped in a car trunk while playing.

If your child outgrows the child safety seat before his or her first birthday, use a convertible or 3-in-1 safety seat in the rear-facing position. These seats can be used 3 ways: rear-facing, forward-facing, or as a booster seat for older children. This kind of safety seat may be used longer by your child, but it is larger than an infant seat and does not have carrying handles. Children should ride in the rear seat of the car until age 13.

Read the directions that came with the seat or ask your healthcare provider when to switch to a toddler safety seat. School-aged children should ride in belt positioning booster seats until at least age 8 or until the seat belt fits correctly. It is against the law for a child to ride in the car without being securely buckled into a safety seat. It is against the law because it is very, very dangerous. Please do what is best for your child — use a safety seat during every car ride.

For more information, see the Child Passenger Safety section on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-09-30
Last reviewed: 2013-09-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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