This week (September 19-25) is Child Passenger Safety Week, culminating in “National Seat Check Saturday” on September 25.

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading killer of children, and the latest research from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that nearly half (46 percent) of car seats are misused.

From 2015 to 2019, there were 1,709 “tweens” (8 to 14 years old) killed in passenger vehicles, and in 2019 alone, the 8-12-year-old age group had the highest number of fatalities (229) among children in passenger vehicles. It is critical that parents and caregivers ensure that, if a child is too large or old for a car seat, they are first put into a booster seat until a seat belt can fit correctly.

Car Seats versus Booster Seats

NHTSA says there is a deadly misconception that a certain type of vehicle may offer greater protection for children. In 2019, 47 percent of unrestrained children killed in vehicle crashes were riding in vans, followed closely by SUVs (42 percent), and light trucks (42 percent). Children are safest when correctly secured in the right car seats or booster seats for their ages and sizes — no matter the vehicle type.

NHTSA recommends keeping children rear-facing as long as possible, up to the top height and weight allowed by their particular seats. a child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, he or she is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. After outgrowing the forward-facing car seat, a child should be placed in a booster seat until tall enough to fit in a seat belt properly.

Booster seats are an essential step between car seats and seat belts. These transitional seats position the seat belt so that it fits properly over the stronger parts of a child’s body. Parents should not feel pressured to put their child in a seat belt too soon. If a child is ready to use a seat belt, it is important to ensure the seat belt fits correctly. Bottom line: The safest place for all kids under 13 is buckled up in the back seat.

Find out about “Seat Check Saturday” in your area