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Wrong harness slot used

The harness straps used to hold the child in the car seat were positioned either too low or too high.

Chest clip placement
was wrong

Harness chest clip positioned over the abdomen rather than the chest or not used at all.

Loose car seat installation

The restraint system moved more than 1 inch side-toside or front-to-back.

Loose harness

More than two inches of total slack between the child and the harness strap; there should be no slack.

Seat belt placement

Lap belt resting over the stomach or shoulder belt on the child's neck or face.

National Child Restraint Use Special Study, Research Note Download Report

What data tells us

  • Based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash data, in 2011 nearly 2 children under 13 were killed and 338 were injured every day while riding in cars, SUVs, pickups and vans.
  • Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are important safety devices that work only when people use them. Car seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers in cars, and by 58 percent and 59 percent, respectively, for infants and toddlers in SUVs, pickups and vans. One-third of the child passengers who died in crashes were unrestrained (29% of those under age 4, and 34% of those 4 to 7 years old). (Occupant Protection, Traffic Safety Facts, 2011 data). Download Report
  • Rural child (12 and younger) passenger fatalities outnumber urban deaths by more than 2 to 1 (2,478 versus 1,180 over a 5-year period). Some of the reasons for this disparity include greater distances to local hospitals, limited 9-1-1 coverage and longer response times for emergency medical services.
  • Of the child (12 and younger) passengers killed while in SUVs, 55 percent were unrestrained. In other vehicle types, 43 percent of light-truck child passengers killed were unrestrained, 40 percent for child passengers of vans and 24 percent for child passengers of passenger cars.

What observations tell us

  • According to NHTSA's most recent national observation survey of restraint use for children 12 and younger, there were significant improvements in the use of appropriate restraint types in 2011 (The 2011 National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats (NSUBS). Download Report


  • Restraint use for all children 12 and younger increased to 91 percent in 2011. The youngest children (12 months and younger) have the highest usage rate at 98 percent, while the oldest group (8 to 12 years old) has the lowest usage rate at 88 percent. Restraint use begins declining for the 4-to-7 age group.
  • NHTSA recommends that children 1 to 3 years old should be in rear-facing or forward-facing seats with harnesses depending on their height and weight. The most recent study found that only 82 percent of children in this age group were protected in age-appropriate seats. About 12 percent had been moved inappropriately into booster seats, 2 percent were in seat belts and 4 percent were completely unrestrained.
  • Children 4 to 7 years old should be in forward-facing car seats with a harness or in booster seats, depending on their height and weight. Almost half of the 4- to 7-year-olds in the study were in booster seats (47%) or forward-facing seats (18%), but one-quarter (25%) had been moved inappropriately into adult seat belts. Ten percent were completely unrestrained.
  • Children 8 to 12 years old should be in booster seats until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. In the study, only 8 percent of the 8- to 12-year-olds were in booster seats, 79 percent were using seat belts and 12 percent were completely unrestrained.
  • NHTSA's annual national seat belt observation survey found that almost all (95%) of children under 8 who were riding with buckled drivers in 2011 were restrained, but that only two-thirds (67%) of those riding with unbuckled drivers were restrained. (Occupant Restraint Use in 2011: Results from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey Controlled Intersection Study. Download Report