Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 6: Play Areas/Playgrounds and Transportation

6.5 Transportation

6.5.2 Transportation Safety Child Passenger Safety

When children are driven in a motor vehicle other than a bus, school bus, or a bus operated by a common carrier, the following should apply:

  1. A child should be transported only if the child is restrained in developmentally appropriate car safety seat, booster seat, seat belt, or harness that is suited to the child’s weight, age, and/or psychological development in accordance with state and federal laws and regulations and the child is securely fastened, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, in a developmentally appropriate child restraint system.
  2. Age and size-appropriate vehicle child restraint systems should be used for children under eighty pounds and under four-feet-nine-inches tall and for all children considered too small, in accordance with state and federal laws and regulations, to fit properly in a vehicle safety belt. The child passenger restraint system must meet the federal motor vehicle safety standards contained in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49, Section 571.213 (especially Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213), and carry notice of such compliance.
  3. For children who are obese or overweight, it is important to find a car safety seat that fits the child properly. Caregivers/teachers should not use a car safety seat if the child weighs more than the seat’s weight limit or is taller than the height limit. Caregivers/teachers should check the labels on the seat or manufacturer’s instructions if they are unsure of the limits. Manufacturer’s instructions that include these specifications can also be found on the manufacturer’s Website.
  4. Child passenger restraint systems should be installed and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and should be secured in back seats only.
  5. All children under the age of thirteen should be transported in the back seat of a car and each child not riding in an appropriate child restraint system (i.e., a child seat, vest, or booster seat), should have an individual lap-and-shoulder seat belt (2).
  6. For maximum safety, infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing orientation (i.e., facing the back of the car) until they are two years of age or until they have reached the upper limits for weight or height for the rear-facing seat, according to the manufacturer’s instructions (1). Once their seat is adjusted to face forward, the child passenger must ride in a forward-facing child safety seat (either a convertible seat or a combination seat) until reaching the upper height or weight limit of the seat, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions (10). Plans should include limiting transportation times for young infants to minimize the time that infants are sedentary in one place.
  7. A booster seat should be used when, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, the child has outgrown a forward-facing child safety seat, but is still too small to safely use the vehicle seat belts (for most children this will be between four feet nine inches tall and between eight and twelve years of age) (1).
  8. Car safety seats, whether provided by the child’s parents/guardians or the child care program, should be labeled with the child passenger’s name and emergency contact information.
  9. Car safety seats should be replaced if they have been recalled, are past the manufacturer’s “date of use” expiration date, or have been involved in a crash that meets the U.S. Department of Transportation crash severity criteria or the manufacturer’s criteria for replacement of seats after a crash (3,11).
  10. The temperature of all metal parts of vehicle child restraint systems should be checked before use to prevent burns to child passengers.

If the child care program uses a vehicle that meets the definition of a school bus and the school bus has safety restraints, the following should apply:

  1. The school bus should accommodate the placement of wheelchairs with four tie-downs affixed according to the manufactures’ instructions in a forward-facing direction;
  2. The wheelchair occupant should be secured by a three-point tie restraint during transport;
  3. At all times, school buses should be ready to transport children who must ride in wheelchairs;
  4. Manufacturers’ specifications should be followed to assure that safety requirements are met.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children ages three to fourteen in the United States (4). Safety restraints are effective in reducing death and injury when they are used properly. The best car safety seat is one that fits in the vehicle being used, fits the child being transported, has never been in a crash, and is used correctly every time. The use of restraint devices while riding in a vehicle reduces the likelihood of any passenger suffering serious injury or death if the vehicle is involved in a crash. The use of child safety seats reduces risk of death by 71% for children less than one year of age and by 54% for children ages one to four (4). In addition, booster seats reduce the risk of injury in a crash by 45%, compared to the use of an adult seat belt alone (5).

The safest place for all infants and children under thirteen years of age is to ride in the back seat. Head-on crashes cause the greatest number of serious injuries. A child sitting in the back seat is farthest away from the impact and less likely to be injured or killed. Additionally, new cars, trucks and vans have had air bags in the front seats for many years. Air bags inflate at speeds up to 200 mph and can injure small children who may be sitting too close to the air bag or who are positioned incorrectly in the seat. If the infant is riding in the front seat, a rapidly inflating air bag can hit the back of a rear-facing infant seat behind a baby’s head and cause severe injury or death. For this reason, a rear-facing infant must NEVER be placed in the front seat of a vehicle with active passenger air bags.

Infants under one year of age have less rigid bones in the neck. If an infant is placed in a child safety seat facing forward, a collision could snap the infant’s head forward, causing neck and spinal cord injuries. If an infant is placed in a child safety seat facing the rear of the car, the force of a collision is absorbed by the child restraint and spread across the infant’s entire body. The rigidity of the bones in the neck, in combination with the strength of connecting ligaments, determines whether the spinal cord will remain intact in the vertebral column. Based on physiologic measures, immature and incompletely ossified bones will separate more easily than more mature vertebrae, leaving the spinal cord as the last link between the head and the torso (6). After twelve months of age, more moderate consequences seem to occur than before twelve months of age (7). However, rear-facing positioning that spreads deceleration forces over the largest possible area is an advantage at any age. Newborns seated in seat restraints or in car beds have been observed to have lower oxygen levels than when placed in cribs, as observed over a period of 120 minutes in each position (8).

As of March 1, 2010, all but three states required booster seat use for children up to as high as nine years of age. Child passenger restraints are recommended increasingly for older children. State child restraint requirements are listed by state at: Booster seats are recommended for use only with both lap and shoulder belts; NEVER install a booster seat with the lap belt only. When the vehicle safety belts fit properly, the lap belt lies low and tightly across the child’s upper thighs (not the abdomen) and the shoulder belt lies flat across the chest and shoulder, away from the neck and face.

A Child Passenger Safety Technician may be able to help find a car safety seat that fits a larger child. Car safety seat manufacturers increasingly are making car safety seats that fit larger children. To locate a Child Passenger Safety Technician see See
-Product-Listing-2010.aspx for a list of available car safety seats. For toddlers or young children whose behavior will not yet allow safe use of a booster seat but who are too large for a forward-facing seat with a harness, caregivers/teachers can consider using a travel vest (9).

When school buses meet current standards for the transport of school-age children, containment design features help protect children from injury, although the use of seat belts would provide additional protection. The U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards for school buses apply only to vehicles equipped with factory-installed seat belts after 1967. To obtain the Federal Regulations, contact the Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office.

Written transportation policy that is communicated to parents/guardians, staff, and all who transport children can help assure understanding of requirements/recommendations for child passenger safety as well as decisions about the value/necessity of the trip.

Car seat manufacturer’s the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidance on car seat replacement after a crash is available at

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Limiting Infant/Toddler Time in Crib, High Chair, Car Seat, Etc. Passenger Vans Transportation Policy for Centers and Large Family Homes Transportation Policy for Small Family Child Care Homes
  1. Durbin, D. R., American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. 2011. Policy statement: Child passenger safety. Pediatrics 127:788-93.
  2. National Highway Trafic Safety Administration. Questions and answers about air bag safety. Safe and Sober Campaign.
  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Child restraint re-use after minor crashes.
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis 2008. Traffic safety facts, 2008, Children
  5. Arbogast, K. B., J. S. Jermakian, M. J. Kallan, D. R. Durbin. 2009. Effectiveness of belt positioning booster seats: An updated assessment. Pediatrics 124:1281-86
  6. Huelke, D. F., G. M. Mackay, A. Morris, M. Bradford. 1993. Car crashes and non-head impact cervical spine injuries in infants and children. Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers.
  7. Weber, K., D. Dalmotas, B. Hendrick. 1993. Investigation of dummy response and restraint configuration factors associated with upper spinal cord injury in a forward-facing child restraint. Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers.
  8. Cerar, L. K., C. V. Scirica, I. S. Gantar, D. Osredkar, D. Neubauer, T. B. Kinane. 2009. A comparison of respiratory patterns in healthy term infants placed in car safety seats and beds. Pediatrics 124: e396-e402.
  9. American Academy of Pediatrics. Obese children and car safety seats: Suggestions for parents.
  10. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2015. Car safety seats: Information for families for 2015.
  11. Child Restraint Safety. Manufacture and expiration.