The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says in addition to a car safety seat for babies and children under the age of 4, it is really important to use a booster seat once a child outgrows the safety seat.
The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at four years worth of data on kids aged 4 through 7 who were in car crashes and found that a booster seat provides good protection from injury all the way through age 7. The study found booster seats are much safer than car seatbelts alone, reducing the risk of injury to children in crashes by almost 60 percent.
Senay says vehicle seat belts are designed to protect an average-size adult male. A booster seat raises children up on the vehicle seat so that the lap and shoulder belts are properly positioned across the hips and chest. Kids should use a booster seat until they are at least 8 years old, unless they are 57 inches tall, or 4 feet 9 inches tall.
A bad fit of both lap and shoulder belts in younger kids put children at much greater risk of injuries to the abdomen, spine, neck and back. Researchers found that booster seats practically eliminated these kinds of injuries, as well as lower extremity injuries. Children in the study who were restrained in seat belts alone suffered injuries to every part of the body.
Researchers found that booster seat use is quite low, and the older the child, the less likely they were to use booster seats. Only 16 percent of 4-year-olds, 13 percent of 5-year-olds, and four percent of 6- and 7-year-olds used booster seats.
Senay says there are different booster seats for different types of vehicles. One has a back for seats that are too short to provide head and neck support. The other type of booster seat comes without a back if the car seat is already high enough.
Experts offer some other advice to maximize safety for children in motor vehicles. They say children should be restrained on every trip and to use the rear seat for all children under the age of 13. Also use the appropriate restraint according to a child's age and size. And use the restraints correctly.