Children are far more likely to suffer injuries in a car accident than an adult, and the injuries they sustain will likely be more severe than those sustained by adults. Every state has unique laws pertaining to child car seats and booster seats, and Alabama parents should know how these laws apply to them. In a car accident, a child’s softer bones and more fragile body means that he or she is vulnerable to serious injuries without proper protection. It’s essential for parents to purchase appropriate car seats for their children and use them correctly.
A child car seat should prevent a child from suffering crushing injuries from other passengers in the event of an accident. It should also protect the child from falling out of the vehicle upon impact and spread the force of impact over the whole body instead of a localized area of the body. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains many child seat safety inspection stations across the country where parents can learn how to properly install car seats and the appropriate ways of securing a child in a safety seat.
There are several types of car seats parents can purchase for different age children and different configurations. For example, there are car seats specially designed for infants and modular car seats that essentially grow and adapt with a child. Older children who are too big for infant seats, but too small to ride with just a seatbelt, can ride in booster seats. Alabama parents should consult the state’s laws and guidelines for appropriate car seat and booster seat use.
Alabama law requires infants and toddlers to ride in rear-facing car seats until at least age two, or the child is too large for the car seat per the manufacturer’s instructions. Parents should never secure a rear-facing seat facing forward or in front of a front-deploying airbag. Rear-facing car seats typically attach to a vehicle using the vehicle’s seatbelt or a latch system that secures the seat to the vehicle. Parents should follow installation instructions very carefully or visit an NHTSA child seat safety inspection station to have a professional install the seat correctly.
A child in a rear-facing car seat with a five-point harness should sit with the harness clip secured on the center of the chest level with the armpits. Once a child is over the age of two and too large to sit in a rear-facing seat, he or she should remain in a forward-facing seat with a harness as long as possible, per the car seat manufacturer’s specifications. After a child outgrows a forward-facing seat with a harness, he or she may sit in a booster seat until the child is tall enough to wear a seatbelt correctly.
In Alabama, children should remain in booster seats until they can sit with their feet touching the floor of the vehicle with knees bent at the edge of the seat and back against the back of the seat. A correctly installed and fitted booster seat should allow the child’s seatbelt to rest the same way it would for an adult. Once a child is too big for a booster seat, he or she should only ride in the back seat of the vehicle with a seatbelt until the age of 13.
Parents should ensure their children know how to wear seatbelts correctly as well. Some children mistakenly let the lap belt rest across the stomach instead of across the top of the legs, which can cause severe injuries in an accident. Additionally, some children may adjust the shoulder strap or move it behind their arm, which is also very unsafe. If a child cannot sit comfortably with a regular seatbelt, then he or she probably still needs a booster seat.