For many decades, drivers have used car seats designed to protect children. Child restraint systems protect against fatal and nonfatal injuries during a car crash. According to the United States Department of Transportation, the use of child safety seats lowers the fatality risk for infants less than a year old by 71 percent. For children ages, one to four, a safety seat lowers the risk of death in an accident by 54 percent. Booster seats lessen the chance of fatal injuries by 45 percent for children ages four to eight.
By law, parents and other caregivers must secure children in a child safety restraint system. Unfortunately, among young child fatalities in car crashes, an estimated 33 percent of them were unrestrained. What happens if a parent does not secure their child properly? Can another driver be held liable for crashing into a car carrying an unrestrained minor?
What Are the Requirements for Child Car Seats?
When parents get inside a car with their children, the law requires them to use a child safety seat system. Child restraint laws require that children use safety seats appropriate for their age, weight, and height. Parents need to secure them in car seats until an adult seat belt fits them properly.
The rule of thumb is that minors at the age of 12 or under should use a child restraint system. Every state has laws listing specific requirements. Thirty-six states require children to use booster seats until the age of six or seven. Another 12 states have laws instructing parents to keep young children in child safety seats if they are under five. Two states require children to use a child safety seat until they are at least eight years old.
Over the years, organizations and government agencies across the country have created many child safety seat distribution programs. The programs provide child safety seats and education on how to install them properly. Combined with the laws, they are effective in improving booster seat use.
The Stages of Child Safety Seat Usage
To reduce the chances of an injury during a crash, a parent or caregiver must know how to use the appropriate seat and secure the child properly. The minor needs to be in the back seat. A child should be in the front passenger seat since the airbag can severely injure the child.
As the child gets older, parents must switch out the child restraint system they use.
The minor goes through four stages as they age:
- Stage 1. The first stage is a rear-facing car seat. The infant or toddler looks toward the back of the car. This type of car seat ensures the best possible protection for very young children. Children use a rear-facing car seat from birth until age two to four, or when they reach the maximum height and weight for the seat.
- Stage 2. The next step is to use a front-facing car seat. These seats come with a harness to secure the child. The young child should be facing the backside of the front seat. They will stay in stage two until age five, or when they reach the maximum height and weight for the seat.
- Stage 3. After the child outgrows their car seat, they will need a booster seat until the adult seat belt fits properly. The lap belt has to rest across their upper thighs and not their stomach. The shoulder strap must rest across their shoulder instead of their neck.
- Stage 4. The last stage is when the seat belt fits properly, and the child does not need a booster seat. Usually, they can use an adult seat belt when they are around four feet nine inches tall. However, the child should remain in the back seat until they are at least 13.
The Penalty for Not Securing Children
Parents and legal guardians need to pay attention to each stage and comply with the legal requirements of child car safety. Legally, parents may face liability when they do not follow the appropriate child car safety measures. Each state has its own set of requirements, and violations vary from place to place. Violators generally must pay a fine after their first offense, and a second or subsequent offense may involve a higher fine. Fines can range anywhere between $10 to $500.
Several states apply an additional penalty, such as adding points to the caregiver’s driver’s license. In some places, a police officer may pull the driver over if they notice car seat misuse. In other states, car seat violations are a secondary offense, and the officer must have stopped the driver for another reason.
Liability for Crashing Into a Car With a Child Onboard
Parents and guardians never want to see their children get hurt while on the road. However, accidents injure children every day. As when adult victims are involved, an at-fault driver may be liable for crashing into a car carrying children.
While minors cannot file a legal claim for damages after an accident, a parent or legal guardian can file one on their behalf. A person who causes an accident that injures a child can be responsible for reimbursing the child for damages. Damages may cover pain and suffering, hospital bills, emotional distress, and loss of future income.