The AAP has long advocated the proper use of car and booster seats for the important reason that they save lives. There has been great community support for this initiative from car seat safety checks to a variety of online awareness campaigns. One of the newest campaigns was a recent partnership between AAA and Hertz Car Rental Agency called "Don't Take A Vacation From Your Car Seat," which stressed the importance of properly restraining infants and children in car and booster seats while traveling. Through the program, AAA members were eligible to receive up to two complimentary car or booster seats when renting a car from Hertz.
The need for campaigns promoting the proper and consistent use of car seats is indisputable. Motor vehicle accidents continue to be the leading cause of death in children and the statistics are astounding. In 2005, 1,335 children under the age of 14 died from motor vehicle accidents and another 184,000 were injured which averages to 4 deaths and 504 injuries a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Surprisingly, car seat laws vary widely by state, as illustrated by the following link http://www.iihs.org/laws/ChildRestraint.aspx. To add to the confusion, many parents don't realize that they are required to abide by the laws of the state in which they are driving.
However, given how common motor vehicle accidents are, it is safest for the child, if parents always follow the AAP car and booster seat guidelines. A summary of the AAP car seat recommendations is as follows; infants should be in rear facing car seats until they are both 1 year old and 20 pounds. Some rear facing car seats have a weight allowance of up to 30 pounds, which allow infants to stay rear facing longer. It is safest to keep infants, over the age of one, rear facing until they outgrow the weight or height allowance of their car seat at which point they will move to a forward facing car seat. Forward facing car seats are then generally used until the child reaches 40 pounds and is around 4 years of age, although some forward facing car seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds, or around 6 years of age. Once a child out grows the height and weight allowances of their forward facing seat they should ride in a booster seat until the adult seat belt fits them correctly which is usually when the reach a height of 4' 9". The AAP has published a Car Seat Safety Guide for Families, which is a wonderful resource for parents and can be viewed at http://www.aap.org/family/carseatguide.htm.
Given the number of deaths and injuries incurred by children due to the lack of proper car seat use, programs such as the recent Hertz AAA campaign are a wonderful way to eliminate some of the obstacles encountered when traveling that decrease their rate of use. According to Deanna Zagin of AAA, the campaign has been well received by AAA members and feedback thus far has been very positive. Although, the campaign officially ended on September 30, 2008, AAA members, as well as members of other participating associations, such as the American Medical Association, are always entitled to receive one complimentary car or booster seat when renting a car from Hertz.
A version of this article also appears on the American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Communications and Media website.