Child Safety Seats

When correctly used, child safety seats reduce the risk of fatalities by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers in passenger cars. Along with that, correctly used seats are 69 percent effective in reducing the need for hospitalization.

What is the Law?

Child Passenger Safety Act (KSA 8-1343)
  • This law requires all children under the age of 4 to be in a federally approved safety seat
  • Children ages 4 to under 8 years must be in a federally approved child safety seat/booster seat UNLESS the child weighs more than 80 lbs. OR is taller than 4’9”.
  • Children 8 years of age but under 14 must be protected by a safety belt.
  • This law applies to all passenger cars designed for carrying fewer than 10 passengers, as defined by KSA 8-1343a. The fine is $60 plus court costs.
Persons under age 14 are prohibited from riding in any portion of the vehicle not intended for passengers; this includes riding in the back of pickup trucks. The fine for this violation is $60 plus court costs.

How do I know I've installed my child's car seat correctly?

You're right to wonder, since experts estimate that up to 95 percent of car seats are installed improperly. Some pointers for safe installation:

Installation Tips:

Before installing your child's car seat, read the instructions carefully, as well as the installation guidelines in your vehicle owner's manual. Your goal is to get the tightest possible fit with the least amount of "give." To do this, follow these steps:
  • Put the seat into place in the car, making sure it's flat against the rear seat's bottom and back.
  • Use your hands to push down as hard as you can on the car seat — or better yet, place your knee on the car seat and push down with all of your weight to squash the air out of the cushion underneath it.
  • While you're holding the seat down, thread your vehicle's lap or lap-and-shoulder belt through the appropriate slots on the car seat, pulling the belt as tight as possible so there's no slack. Once you've buckled the belt into place, give it a yank to make sure it's locked. (If you're using the LATCH system rather than safety belts to secure the seat, carefully follow the installation instructions that came with your car seat.)
  • If your car is a pre-1996 model, chances are the lap-and-shoulder belts don't lock in place unless the car comes to a sudden stop. (To test them, see if you can move the car seat more than an inch to either side or toward the front of the car when the belts are buckled tightly.) If the seat moves, you'll need to use a locking clip to secure it in place. A small metal device that looks like an oversize paperclip, the locking clip fits around the seat belt (about a half-inch above the buckle) to hold the belt firmly in place. If your car seat didn't come with a locking clip or you've misplaced it, contact the manufacturer to order a replacement or purchase one at a children's supply store.
  • To test whether you've installed the car seat correctly, take hold of the top of the seat and try to tilt it toward the front and sides of the vehicle. If the seat moves more than an inch in any direction, unbuckle it and repeat the steps above until you have a tight fit.
Buckle your child in securely. One of the most common mistakes parents make, safety experts say, is letting their child ride with the car seat harness straps too loose or positioning the harness clip too low on their child's chest. You shouldn't be able to pinch any fabric from the harness straps between your fingers, and the harness clip should be at the level of your child's armpits. If your child has a large head and you've been lowering the chest clip to get the harness over his head, you'll need to get used to readjusting the chest clip every time you buckle your child in. Also check that the harness straps aren't twisted and are threaded through the right strap slots on the back of the car seat. The correct slots are the ones level with or slightly below your child's shoulders for rear-facing seats, and level with or slightly above the shoulders for front-facing seats. Kids this age grow fast, so remember to check the strap level frequently.

Make sure the car seat is in the right place. The safest place for most car seats is in the center of the rear seat, where it's best protected from a side-impact crash. If you have two kids in car seats, positioning will depend on the contours of your back seat. If you can, you're best off putting one child in the center and one on the right side of your vehicle's rear seat (where you can see him more easily than if he were directly behind you, and which will make getting him out of the car easier and safer when you park on a busy street). But if sitting close together is an invitation for your kids to poke, pinch, and grab each other (distracting you from safe driving while you play referee), you'll probably need a buffer zone in the center. And, of course, never let any child under age 13 ride in the front seat, especially if you have a passenger air bag, which can cause serious head and neck injuries to a child when it inflates.