The Facts About Child Passenger Safety

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in children birth to eighteen years of age. However you might be surprised to know that crashes are not the only hazard for children in and around vehicles.  That is why the Transportation Safety Program at Rady Children’s Hospital provides information for parents and caregivers about all aspects of safety for children including:

Child Passenger Safety Law

The child passenger safety law in California states that a child must be restrained in a child passenger safety restraint, in the back seat, until they reach 8 years old unless they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall or taller.  Why 4 foot 9 inches tall?  That is the height where a seat belt fits most children safely. The law also states that a child under the age of 16 must be appropriately restrained in a seat belt, defined as wearing a seat belt that fits across the chest and low on the hips, touching the thigh (the five step safety belt test). To see if your child passes the “five step safety belt test” and can wear a seat belt safely, please visit the “Tween” webpage on this site.

The law also states that smoking is not permitted in a vehicle with a child passenger under the age of 18, and that no child under the age of 6 should be left unattended in a vehicle. Please see the information below on preventing heat stroke. Click here to read all the laws and regulations regarding child passengers.

As of January 2017 the California Child Passenger Safety law requires that all children, under 2 years of age, shall be properly secured in a rear-facing child restraint unless they weigh 40 pounds or greater, or 40 inches or taller, the child shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the car seat manufacturer. Why rear-facing? It is 5 times safer that forward facing in a vehicle and helps to protect the head and neck of infants and toddlers.

For more information about the California Law: English | Spanish

Right Seat, Right Place, Right Direction

Follow these three recommendations and you will be well on your way to keeping your child safe in a vehicle. To choose the best car seat for your child and vehicle please visit the “Choose and Use a Car Seat” web page on this site.

Click here to join our Birthday Club and we’ll send you an email on your child’s birthday with relevant car safety tips based on your child’s age.

Don’t be Driven to Distraction

Learn Strategies to prevent distractions while driving and take the pledge to be the safest driver on the road. Click here to take the Safe Driver Pledge.

Preventing Heatstroke

While many people are aware of the child passenger safety seat law, you might not be aware of “Kaitlyns’ Law,” which requires that a child under the age of 7 never be left unattended in a vehicle alone or with a child under the age of 8. Although there are many reasons why a young child should never be left unattended in a vehicle, this law was implemented to prevent hyperthermia, or heat exhaustion. The temperature of a vehicle can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, creating an unsafe environment for your child. Young children are the most susceptible to overheating as their bodies cannot regulate temperatures the same as an adult. In 2010, nationwide, 29 children died from heat exhaustion due to being left unattended in a vehicle. Many of these incidents were due to the parent being distracted, with too much on their mind, forgetting the child in the back seat.  To avoid this tragedy follow Safe Kids Worldwide has created a Campaign to encourage everyone to ACT These simple guidelines will ensure a child is not accidentally left in a vehicle:

  • A= Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child in a car, not even for a minute. Always lock your doors and trunks. –even in your driveway. Keep you keys and key fobs out of the reach of kids
  • C= Create reminders. Place something you’ll need at your next stop-like a purse, briefcase or cell phone next to the child safety seat.
  • T= Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, take action. Call 911. Emergency personnel are trained to respond to these situations and will direct you on further actions.

Safety Around Vehicles

In 2007, 262 children in the U.S. under the age of 14 died in non-traffic crashes. Forty-five percent of these deaths were caused by the vehicle backing over the child (back over crash), and 49% were from the vehicle hitting the child in the front (front over crash) in the driveway.   There are several steps you can take to avoid this from happening at your home, such as:

  • Make sure the front door is locked when you leave the house so your child does not run after you
  • Have someone hold your child’s hand as you depart to ensure your child does not run after you
  • Always walk around the front and back of your vehicle before pulling away from the driveway.
  • Don’t allow your child to play in the drive way when vehicles are parked there
  • Back up cameras in cars were designed to prevent back over injuries;  when considering your next purchase consider a car with such a device and use it every time you drive

Trains, Planes and Other Automobiles

Traveling can pose many challenges for families with small children, especially when using another form of transportation such as a plane, train or recreational vehicle.  To help you with your travel planes and to make sure you are safe where ever you travel, we recommend the following:

Airplanes and Trains: Infant-only carriers and convertible seats 16” wide or less can be used with the seat belt. Booster seats cannot be used as they require a shoulder belt component. If you choose to check your seat, check it at the gate so that the seat is placed on top of the other luggage and is not damaged. It is highly recommended that you bring your own car seat to your destination: rental car agencies do offer this service, but an appropriate car seat for your child is not guaranteed.

Recreational Vehicles:  The only safe seating position for any passenger in a recreational vehicle is the forward facing seats with seat belts. In most recreational vehicles this is the two front seats. You cannot place a rear facing seat in the front seat with an airbag unless you can disable the air bag. Young children under the weight limit for the airbag deployment should not ride in the front seat of a vehicle. Therefore a separate vehicle should be used to transport children when traveling with a recreational vehicle. Check the vehicle owner’s manual for recommendations.