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Car Safety: Children Over 1 Year Old



  • Safety seats and seat belts are the only safe way for your child to travel, even for short trips.
  • You also need to teach your child how to behave in the car.
  • Never leave a child alone in a parked car, even for a minute.


Car travel should be a safe and pleasant time for you and your child. It is a good time for you to talk to your child and teach him how to behave in the car.

Safety seats and seat belts are the only safe way for your child to travel, even for short trips. Safety seat laws can differ from state to state and are based on your child’s age, height and weight. Check your state laws. Read the directions that come with the safety seat to be sure you use it correctly. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Toddlers are safest riding in a rear-facing car seat with a 5-point harness until they are 2 years old or until they reach the maximum weight or height for the seat.
  • Kids who are 2 to 4 years old will need a forward-facing safety seat with a 5-point harness. Place the seat in the rear seat of the car and use it until your child reaches the maximum weight or height for the seat.
  • Once your child is between 40 and 80 pounds and less than 4 foot 9 inches tall (usually between 4 and 8 years of age), you can use a booster seat in the rear seat of the car. A booster seat makes lap and shoulder belts fit correctly over the upper thighs and hips and over the shoulder.
  • Seat belts can generally be used for children 9 to 12 years of age, but they should still ride in the rear seat of the car.

At any age, put your child’s safety seat in the back seat of the car. Never place your child in the front seat. Airbags in the front of the car can hurt or kill young children. Children over the age of 13 may sit in the front seat with a regular lap and shoulder belt.

About Safety Seats

  • 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. If you do not know the history of the car safety seat, do not use it.
  • 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.
  • Secure the seat tightly in your car. It should not move more than 1 inch in any direction. 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.
  • Make sure that your child fits snugly into the seat when you buckle him in. Check the safety seat harness and the car seat belts to make sure the fit is tight and secure. Make sure the harness straps are at or below your child's shoulders and that the chest clip is at armpit level.
  • Register your car seat with the manufacturer as soon as you buy it. This allows the company to contact you about recalls and safety notices.
  • Children with special health problems or medical conditions may need other restraint systems. Talk with your healthcare provider about this.

Rules of the Road

  • Make a rule that everyone in the car puts “Hands up!” to show that their hands are out of the way before car doors are closed.
  • Make a rule that the car doesn’t start until everyone is safely buckled in. Set a good example by wearing your seat belt each time you drive.
  • Set rules such as no throwing anything in the car, no playing with door locks or windows, no grabbing the steering wheel or car keys, and no unfastening safety belts. Remind your child about these rules before all car rides.
  • Pull over and stop the car if your child tries to release the seat belt, climb out of the car seat, or if your child starts screaming or fighting. Stay calm and matter-of-fact. Don’t start driving the car until all 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.
  • Never allow lollipops or Popsicles on a stick in the car. Avoid drinks with straws. In a sudden stop or accident, these can be hazards.
  • Do not let children eat foods that may cause choking in a moving car. (A few examples include grapes, hard candy, and hot dogs). Your reaction to their choking can cause you to have an accident.

Car Travel

  • Your first rides should be short practice rides, perhaps around the block. Point out interesting things that your child can see. Make it a positive time for both of you. Sing or play games.
  • Talk with your child while you drive. (For example: "That was sure a good lunch, wasn’t it?" or "You were a big help to me in the store" or "It'll be fun visiting grandma").
  • This is also a good time to teach your child about the world. (For example, "See that big, red, fire truck? Look at how fast it is going. What do firemen do? The light on the top is red. What else is red?") What you teach should be geared to your child’s age.
  • Right after the ride, reward your child with 5 to 10 minutes of your time doing something that your child likes. For example, you might read a story or play a game, or let your child help fix lunch or put away the groceries. However, do not reward your child with presents or food for good behavior.
  • When traveling in hot weather, have plenty of cool drinks for your child. Dress children lightly.
  • Put shades on the windows in the back to protect your child from bright sun. Don’t use a hood to protect your baby from the sun because it can reduce the airflow around baby’s head and cause overheating.
  • Children can get burns from hot seatbelts and harness buckles. Cover metal parts during hot weather.
  • Let children get out and stretch their legs from time to time on long trips.
  • If your child is going to travel in a car with other drivers (grandparent, aunt, uncle, or baby sitter), make sure they use the car safety seat. Make sure it is correctly installed in their car.
  • Never allow children to ride in the cargo area of a pick-up truck, minivan, or station wagon.
  • Carry a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher in your car.


  • Park where your child can be lifted or can get out of the car on the sidewalk side away from traffic.
  • Never leave a child alone in a parked car, even for a minute.
    • Heat stroke in babies and young children can happen in a matter of minutes, even if a window is rolled down.
    • A power window can choke a child if it goes up while she is leaning out.
    • The car can start rolling if a child plays with the controls.
    • A child can get trapped in a car trunk while playing.
  • Make it a habit to always turn off the car motor and remove the keys every time you park. Keep your keys and remote devices out of children’s reach. When you are not in your car, keep the trunk and all doors locked so children can’t get inside.
  • Watch children closely around cars especially when loading or unloading. Teach your child that cars are not a safe place to play.

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 questions about how to install and use your car seat, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2018.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2017-09-25
Last reviewed: 2017-09-25
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.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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