Children are extremely vulnerable in car accidents. They have softer bones and weaker muscles that can more easily sustain serious injuries in crashes than adults. Car accidents are a top cause of child death in the U.S. According to the CDC, in 2017, 675 children 12 years and younger died in motor vehicle accidents. Another 116,000 suffered injuries. Strapping your child into the correct car seat could help prevent fatal injuries in an auto accident. It could also keep you on the right side of Alabama’s car seat laws as a parent or guardian.

Height and Weight Requirements for a Booster Seat

A car seat or booster seat will only work if the child properly fits inside. A child who has outgrown a booster seat in height or weight may not remain properly in the seat during a car accident. Effective July 1st, 2006, Alabama’s child restraint law lists height, weight and age requirements for each type of car seat.

  • Rear-facing car seat. Birth to 1 year old, or when the child reaches 20 pounds.
  • Forward-facing car seat. Ages 1 to 5, or 20 pounds to 40 pounds.
  • Booster seat. Ages 5 (if at least 40 pounds) to 6.
  • Seat belt. Ages 6 to 15.

Alabama law differs from national car seat guidelines in terms of how long to keep a child in a booster seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends leaving a child in a booster seat until he or she reaches 4’9” tall, usually around ages 8 to 9. At this height, a seat belt will be able to fit correctly over the child’s thighs and chest.

Can a Child Ride in the Front Seat With or Without a Booster Seat?

Drivers should always keep children in the backseat of a car, whether a child uses a booster seat or not. It is not safe for children to ride in the front seat. Riding in the front seat could lead to injuries or death from the force of the airbag if it deploys in an accident. Manufacturers designed airbags to cushion and protect adults, not children. Children are also at a higher risk of striking the windshield or getting ejected from a vehicle from the front seat. National safety organizations find the safest place for a child is the middle seat in the back, where they are safest from obstacles and seatback failures in crashes.

How Does a Car Seat Protect a Child in a Car Accident?

Failing to properly secure a child in a vehicle is against the law in Alabama. Breaking the state’s car seat law could result in a $25 fine per offense. Alabama’s seat belt and safety seat laws are primary, meaning a police officer does not need another reason to pull a driver over. While this fine may not be enough to motivate drivers to follow the rules, the potential health and safety consequences to unsecured children in a car accident should.

Failing to secure your child in the proper safety seat could prove deadly. In 2017, 35% of children 12 and under who died in car accidents were not using safety devices. Seat belts and safety seats are the most effective ways to reduce serious injuries and deaths in traffic accidents. Child restraints work by keeping children in their seats. This prevents them from crash forces throwing them into dashboards or windshields. The restraint can absorb most of the force of the impact for the child.

The correct safety seat can evenly distribute the force of the crash over the child’s body, rather than all of it collecting dangerously at one point, such as the neck or spine. This can reduce the risk of traumatic injuries to the head, brain, spinal cord, internal organs and other sensitive body parts. Finally, a child restraint system can prevent an unsecured child from becoming a projectile that could hurt or kill other passengers in an accident. If you need assistance choosing or installing the correct car seat for your child, find a free inspection station in your community.