Family Health

Car Seat Safety: Nebraska's New Law

One of the most confusing but important things for any parent to keep up on is the ever-changing recommendations on car seats and automobile safety for kids. In honor of Nebraska's new car seat law and a recent 15-hour road trip with two kids under age 5, I thought a refresher on car seat recommendations would be great for everyone. 

Car seats save lives

Motor vehicle crashes cause a quarter of all unintentional child deaths. Most crashes occur when children are traveling as passengers, and having a child secured in appropriate car seats and restraints can decrease their risk of by 50-75 percent, depending on the child's age. 

Obeying the law

All 50 states have child restraint laws. Nebraska's new law requires:

  • All children to be in rear-facing safety seats until age 2 or until they reach the upper weight and height limits allowed by the car seat manufactuerer
  • All children under 8 to use weight- and age-appropriate car seats or booster seats
  • All children up to age 8 to ride in the back seat, as long as the back seat is equipped with a seat belt and not already occupied by other children under age 8
  • Children age 8-18 who are riding must be secured by seat belts or child safety seats or booster seats.

While this may come as a shock to many families, the changes will help more children be properly restrained and safer in the event of a car accident.

More on the types of car seats

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is very clear in evidence-based recommendations for car seats and automobile safety for kids. 

There are four main types of car seats/restraints for children depending on their age and size: 

  • Rear-facing only infant carriers/car seats for infants
  • Convertible rear-facing car seats that can become forward-facing
  • Forward-facing car seats with five-point harness
  • Booster seats

When presented with all this information, or when walking the aisles of a local store, the options can be overwhelming and confusing as to which is the right choice for your child.

Choosing the right seat

Children must ride in rear-facing seats up to age 2 or until they reach the upper weight or height limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Typically, newborns and infants younger than 1 will be in rear-facing-only car seats consisting of a base which stays in the car and a portable infant carrier. 

When children outgrow the height or weight recommendations for their rear-facing infant carriers, they can be switched to convertible rear-facing car seats. This is a larger car seat that does not come out of the car, but instead can be positioned rear- or forward-facing. 

"A common question I get from parents is if the child can be switched early if their legs have to be bent in order to stay rear-facing. While it may appear uncomfortable for children to sit with their legs bent, this is no different than being in a normal chair, and they are much safer remaining rear-facing until they are 2 years old."

Dr. Matt Gibson
Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician

After they turn 2, toddlers and preschoolers can be made to ride forward-facing by flipping their convertible car seat forward or by using a new forward-facing-only car seat. These seats continue to use a five-point car seat-style harness for improved safety. Children should stay in this until they outgrow the height and weight recommendations by the car seat manufacturer.

School-age child boosters

When children exceed the height and weight limit for a forward-facing car seat, typically around kindergarten age, they may be switched to a seat belt-positioning booster seat. This is a small seat, often with arm rests, that they only sit on and it does not cover their back. This booster allows them to use the car's normal seatbelt, but it helps the belt fit properly so the shoulder strap overlies the middle of the collarbone and does not ride up on the neck while the lap belt lies over the top of the hips/thighs and not on the stomach.

Need more help?

Perhaps just as important, remember that any car seat you use should be from a reputable and regulated car seat manufacturer. Car seats should never be used secondhand and should be replaced if they are ever involved in an automobile collision. 

For more information, the AAP has a website for parents with tons of information about car seat safety, or you can always ask your friendly neighborhood Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician!

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Matthew Gibson is dedicated to the health and well-being of children. He loves researching the latest health information and passing it on to parents so they can keep their kids happy and healthy.

Dr. Gibson shares his knowledge with patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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