Car Seat Safety for Children

Car seat use reduces the risk for injury in crashes by 71% to 82%.

Choosing the Right Car Seat for Your Child

Car crashes are a leading cause of injury or death for children. The CDC states that car seat use reduces the risk for injury in crashes by 71% to 82% for children when compared with seat belt use alone. Did you know that more than half of car seats are not used or installed correctly?

The best way to keep your child safe every time you get in a vehicle is to ensure that you’re using the right car seat and that you’re using it the correct way. It can be overwhelming and intimidating, so parents, expectant parents, caregivers should take the time to research available options and find the seat that is appropriate for your child’s age, weight, and height (as well as your car model). 

There are a variety of car seat options available for parents, and one size does not fit all. Here’s a look at some of the options available:

Car seats come with a user manual with detailed instructions for installing and buckling your child. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also maintains a directory of many car seat inspection stations. More detailed information can be found in the Resources section.

Staying Safe in the Seat

Choosing and installing a car seat is definitely a large part of the process to keep your child safe in the car, but it doesn’t stop there. Each time you leave the house in a vehicle, you need to check that your child is strapped in correctly and external factors do not impact the efficacy of the seat. 

Here are some things to consider: 

  • Bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, can compress in a crash and leave the straps too loose to restrain your child, leading to increased risk of injury. Ideally, dress your baby in thinner layers and wrap a coat or blanket around your baby over the buckled harness straps if needed.​ Car seat safe coats also are popping up on the market. Learn more Winter Car Seat Safety Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children.
  • Do not place padding under or behind your child or use any sort of car safety seat insert unless it came with the seat or was made by the manufacturer for use with that specific seat. When you add comfort items (like custom car seat covers, head supports, strap covers and winter inserts), you’re changing the way the seat fits and protects your child. 
  • Be wary of toys in the car. Choose toys that are soft and will not hurt your child in a crash. Secure any loose objects in the car
  • Never leave your child alone in the car. 
  • Allow time for snacking before you get in the car. It’s hard to attend to a child who is choking when you are driving, so it’s best not to give food in the car. If a child needs to eat during a long trip, stop or offer a liquid or a pouch in the car to reduce the risk of choking. 
  • Do not use seats that have been in a moderate or severe crash. Seats that were in a minor crash may still be safe to use, but some car safety seat manufacturers recommend replacing the seat after any crash, even a minor one. The NHTSA considers a crash minor if all the following situations are true:
    • The vehicle could be driven away from the crash.
    • The vehicle door closest to the car safety seat was not damaged.
    • No one in the vehicle was injured.
    • The airbags did not go off.
    • You can’t see any damage to the car safety seat.

Safety on Public Transportation

Travel with children isn’t always limited to cars. Parents and caregivers might have to take their young children on other forms of transportation such as airplanes, buses, or trains. The following resources outline safe guidelines:





A young toddler riding in a pink and purple toy car.

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

Request free printed materials from our Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series.


Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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