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Car Safety: Children Over 1 Year Old

Car trips should be a positive experience for you and your child. It is a good time for pleasant conversation and teaching your child how to behave in the car. Correct placement in an approved child restraint device is the safest way for your child to travel, even for short trips.

For kids more than a year old and between 20 and 40 pounds, you will need a forward-facing car seat. Read the directions that come with the car seat. Kids between 40 and 80 pounds and less than 4 foot 9 inches tall can use a booster seat. A booster seat makes lap and shoulder belts fit correctly over the upper thighs and hips and over the shoulder. Seat belts can be used for children over 80 pounds and taller than 4 feet 9 inches tall.

At any age, put the safety seat in the back seat of the car. It is much safer than the front seat. If your car has an airbag on the passenger side of the front seat, never place your child in the front seat. The airbag can actually hurt young children.

About Safety Seats

  • Some safety seats can not be installed properly in some cars. Check before you buy a car seat to make sure that it will work with your vehicle.
  • 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 and 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 (Spanish at 800-747-SANO, Web site or the National Auto Safety Hotline at 888-DASH-2-DOT, Web site
  • Children 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 at 1-800-424-9393. Web site:
  • Check the harness of the safety seat and the seat belts of your car to make sure the fit is tight and secure.

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 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 loose packages or heavy or sharp objects in the car. A sudden stop can cause them to shift and injure passengers.
  • 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 in a moving car. They may choke, and you may overreact and 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 experience for both of you. Sing or play games.
  • Include your child in pleasant conversation. (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 the age of your child.
  • 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 get into the habit of buying presents for good behavior.
  • When traveling in hot weather, have plenty of cool drinks for your child. Dress children appropriately.
  • Children can get burns from hot seatbelts and harness buckles. Cover metal parts during hot weather.
  • Let children get out and stretch their legs periodically 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 fastened in the 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 get out of the car on the sidewalk side away from traffic. Never leave a child unattended in a parked car even for a minute.
  • Make it a habit to always turn off the car motor and remove the keys every time you park.
  • Watch children closely around cars especially when loading or unloading.

It is illegal for a child to ride in the car without being securely buckled into a safety seat. It is illegal because it is very, very dangerous. Please do what is best for your child—use a safety seat during every car ride.

Written by E. Christophersen, PhD, author of "Pediatric Compliance: A Guide for the Primary Care Physician.".
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2009-12-01

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 health care professional.

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