Did you know that most hospital birthing centers have someone on staff whose job includes inspecting your car seat before letting you leave with your newborn? This is because doctors understand the importance of child safety seats.
In this blog post, we’ll provide some tips for keeping your child safe and complying with Arizona’s car seat laws.
Alarming car crash statistics
We don’t want to bring you down with a bunch of grim statistics, but this blog post is about keeping your child safe, and for that reason, it’s important you understand the risks. With that in mind, here are some sobering car crash statistics from the Arizona Department of Transportation:
- There were 127,056 car crashes in Arizona in 2018 (916 were fatal accidents)
- Roughly 1 person is killed every 8 hours in a car crash in Arizona
- Children under the age of 14 accounted for 32 fatalities and 3,134 injuries in 2018
- Approximately 82% of people wear seat belts in Arizona (the national average is 86%)
- Approximately 43% of children who died in car crashes were not properly buckled
Now for the good news:
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a correctly used safety seat can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71%. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 325 children under 5 were saved by car seats in 2017.
Arizona car seat laws
Arizona’s car seat laws can be found in Section 28-907 of the Arizona Revised Statutes.
The statute is a little confusing at first glance (most statutes are), so here’s what you need to know:
A child must be in a federally-approved car seat or booster seat if the child is:
- Under the age of 5, or
- Under the age of 8 AND 4’ 9” or shorter
Let’s look at 4 examples:
Billy is 7 years old and 5’. Does Billy need to ride in a car seat or booster seat? No.
Kelly is 8 years old and 4’ 5”. Does Kelly need to ride in a car seat or booster seat? No.
Jason is 7 years old and 4’ 9”. Does Jason need to ride in a car seat or booster seat? Yes!
Types of child safety seats
Arizona doesn’t specify which type of child safety seat should be used (other than to require that the seat meets federal regulations). So, let’s take a look at the different types of child safety seats that are appropriate based on the weight, age, and height of the child.
Rear-facing car seats
If your child is under the age of 1 or weighs less than 20 pounds, it’s critical that you use a rear-facing car seat. This doesn’t mean you should switch to a front-facing car seat as soon as your child turns 1 or exceeds 20 pounds. It’s recommended that you keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until they exceed the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.
There are 3 types of rear-facing car seats:
- Infant car seats are designed for newborns and are generally appropriate for the first 8 or 9 months. Infant car seats can only be used rear-facing.
- Convertible seats allow you to change from rear-facing to forward-facing as your child grows. These car seats generally have higher weight and height limits, allowing your child to remain in a rear-facing position longer than infant car seats.
- All-in-one seats can change from rear-facing to forward-facing and then to booster as your child grows.
Forward-facing car seats
Though it’s best to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, your child must move to a forward-facing seat once they exceed the height and weight limits of the rear-facing car seats.
Your child should be moved to a booster seat once they outgrow the forward-facing car seat.
A booster seat is a seat cushion designed to elevate a child in a car so that their seat belt fits better.
Your child must be kept in a booster seat (or some other child safety seat) until they’re 4’9” tall. At that point, your child can use a seat belt if they’re big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must fit snugly across the upper thighs (not the stomach), and the shoulder belt should fit snugly across the shoulder and chest (not the neck or face).
How to properly install a child car seat
Using the proper child safety seat is only half the battle. You must also install and use the system correctly.
Here are some tips to make sure your car seat is installed correctly:
- Always follow the owner’s manuals for the car seat AND the vehicle you’re using to select the safest position and installation method.
- Ensure the seat belt or LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) straps are going through the seat at the correct slots for the position the seat is facing.
- If using LATCH, check the vehicle owner’s manual to make sure that LATCH can be used in the seating position you have chosen (the center position is the safest, but can’t always be used).
- If the seat can move more than an inch from side-to-side, it’s too loose.
- The seat should be at a 45-degree angle when the seat is rear-facing. Most infant seats are designed to allow you to adjust the angle. Forward-facing seats are kept straight.
- Use the tether strap to secure the car seat at the top when forward-facing. This helps reduce forward head movement by 6 inches.
- No after-market products should be used on the seat (this includes putting blankets behind the child in the seat). If it didn’t come with the seat, don’t use it.
- The carrying arm should be kept in the back position while in the vehicle.
Penalties for disobeying Arizona car seat law
The main incentive for using a child restraint system is that it could save your child’s life. But, there's an additional incentive:
If a police officer determines that a child in your vehicle is not properly restrained, the officer will issue a citation, which results in a $50 fine.
What’s more, some cities in Arizona have special ordinances that could result in an additional fine.
Arizona participates in a program entitled "Children Are Priceless Passengers" (CAPP) whereby you can attend a 2-hour training session on child seat safety. For class locations and schedules, visit the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety website.
Additionally, the NHTSA maintains an online database of car safety inspection centers to help you find one near you.
Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers parents tips on making sure their car seat will protect their baby in a crash. More information, including how-to videos on car seat installation, is available at healthychildren.org.