Car Safety for School Children

Buckle Up Image - Masterfile

School-age children should not be allowed to play in or around a parked car. To reduce the risk of a child becoming trapped inside the trunk of a car, always keep the trunk closed and the rear seats up.

Teach children how to use a trunk release mechanism, if your car has this feature.

A child's body temperature increases much faster than an adult's. Therefore, to reduce the risk of heat injury, children should never be left in a car, not even for a short errand, and not even with the windows down.

Automobile accidents are the leading cause for death in school-age children in the United States and hundreds of thousands of children are injured in car crashes each year. Although not all car accidents can be prevented, there are a number of steps you can take to significantly reduce the risk for serious or fatal injury to your child in the event of a collision.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), child passenger deaths (age 12 and under) in the United States decreased 43 percent from 2002 to 2011. However, more than 9,000 children were killed in car crashes during this period. The CDC reports that in 2011, one in three children who died in a car crash was not properly buckled in a age- and size-appropriate manner (e.g., car seat, safety belt).

Booster Seat Image - Masterfile

Standard safety belts are designed for people who are at least 57 inches tall. In a collision, young children who are less than this height can be seriously injured by the safety belt. A booster seat can be used in children between the ages of five and eight to help position the shoulder strap of the safety belt correctly.

There are two types of booster seats: high back and backless. Booster seats are used in the back seat with the lap and shoulder belt of the car. They should not be used with a lap-only seat belt. When used properly, the shoulder strap should cross the middle of the child's chest.

Older children who are at least 57 inches tall and 80 pounds can generally use adult lap and shoulder seatbelts. However, to reduce the risk of serious or fatal injury in the event of a crash, children should continue to ride in the back seat until the age of 13. When riding in a car, children should not be allowed to tuck the shoulder belt under their arm or behind their back.

To improve car safety for children:

  • Use a rear-facing car seat from birth to age 2, or until the child reaches the height and weight limit for the seat.
  • Use a forward-facing car seat from age to until at least age 5, or when the child reaches the upper height and weight limit for the seat.
  • Use a booster seat from the age of 5 until the seatbelt fits the child properly—until the child is about 57 inches tall.
  • Use a lap and shoulder belt once the seatbelt fits the child properly. (The lap belt should lay across the child's upper thighs and the shoulder belt should lay across the child's chest.)

For further information about children and car safety, talk with your child's pediatrician.

Pedestrian Safety for School Children

Being struck by a moving car is the second leading cause for car-related deaths in school-age children. Each year, tens of thousands of children in the United States are injured as pedestrians.

To help prevent accidents, parents and caregivers should teach school-age children about pedestrian safety and should set a good example. Children should be supervised while crossing until they are at least 10 years old and should not be allowed to play in driveways, streets, or parking lots.

  • Look left, right, and then left again before crossing the street.
  • Cross at corners, use a crosswalk, and follow traffic signals.
  • Before crossing, make eye contact with the driver.
  • If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic.
  • Pay attention at all times while crossing the street.
  • Use reflective elements on clothing or carry a flashlight for visibility.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 05 Oct 2015