Car Seat Compliance Up: AAA Survey

March 21, 2012

Just one year after the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released its updated car seat recommendations, a new survey from the AAA shows that Americans are definitely getting the message.

According to the AAA, more than 90 percent of parents surveyed with children under the age of 13 have heard of the new guidelines – most from their child’s pediatrician.

Toddler in car seat

Toddler in car seat

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In addition, one in three parents (35 percent) said they had not only heard about the new recommendations but they had also changed the way their children under the age of 13 ride in the car.

Safety groups have long stressed the benefits of keeping young children in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible. Studies have shown that children who are properly restrained in a rear-facing car seat are five times less likely to be injured in the event of a vehicle crash.

To reiterate, the AAP recommends that children under the age of two remain in rear-facing car seats, or at least until they reach the seat’s maximum height and weight as specified by the seat manufacturer. Older children, those between eight and 12 years, should be secured in a belt-positioning booster seat until they reach 4-feet 9-inches tall.

booster seat with good fit - IIHS

booster seat with good fit - IIHS

Enlarge Photo

Other survey findings

When the AAA asked parents with a child under the age of two why they hadn’t made a change based on the new car seat recommendations, some 82 percent said they didn’t need to, since they were already meeting or exceeding the revised guidelines.

But there were other reasons cited as well, which shows that continued awareness-raising is necessary. Some parents said they hadn’t made a change because their child under two was “uncomfortable” or “unwilling” to sit rear-facing, while others said they were reluctant to return their young child to a rear-facing car seat after “graduating” to a forward-facing seat. Some parents just said the new guidelines were “unnecessary.”

What about older children? The survey results were similar here. When asked why they hadn’t made any changes based on the new recommendations, 77 percent said they were already meeting or exceeding them.  Some, however, believed the guidelines were “too strict.” Other reasons cited included an unwillingness or reluctance to return their older child to a booster seat after allowing them to graduate to a seat belt. Still others said they worried whether their child’s friends were also using a booster seat.

The AAA warns that seat belts are designed for adults, and don’t generally fit children properly until they reach 4-feet 9-inches tall. Jill Ingrassia, managing director, AAA Government Relations and Traffic Safety Advocacy has even stronger words of warning: “Graduating a child from a booster seat too soon may result in injury, or even death, in the event of a crash.”

That should be enough to convince parents that returning their young child to rear-facing or older child to a booster seat is worth putting up with a child’s objections. Parents should also communicate with the parents of their older child’s friends to ensure consistency in car seat use with respect to the new recommendations.

More resources for parents

Still confused over the issue of what’s appropriate for your child: rear-facing, front-facing, booster seat or seat belt? The AAA has a series of instructional videos that can guide you step-by-step.

Another alarming statistic that many parents are unaware of is that three out of four child safety seats are improperly installed. There’s an easy solution for this. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians are ready and willing to help parents with proper car seat installation. Find them through your local AAA office, or go to or call 1-866-SEATCHECK (1-866-732-8243).

Unsure what your state’s car seat law is? Look it up here.

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