Traveling by car is much safer for children than it used to be. The rate of children dying as passengers in vehicles has gone down by 60 percent since 1975, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Using appropriate restraints, including car seats, can further reduce the number of children dying or being seriously injured in vehicle crashes.
In Maryland, state law requires that children younger than 8 ride in a restraint system that’s appropriate for children, unless the child is 4 feet 9 inches or taller. In addition, children between the ages of 8 and 16 who do not use a child restraint system must use the seat belt in the vehicle. Child restraint systems include car seats, booster seats and other safety devices approved by the federal government.
The law applies to vehicles from within Maryland and from out of state, and the driver has responsibility for ensuring that children in the vehicle are appropriately restrained. Taxis are not subject to the law and are not required to use child car safety seats when transporting children. However, experts recommend that you follow standard safety advice regarding car seats when you ride in taxis with your child.
Children in the Front Seat
Maryland has no law against children riding in a vehicle’s front seat. However, children may not ride in a rear-facing child seat in the front seat with an airbag that is active. If you’re the driver and you cannot turn off the airbag, understand that it is against Maryland law for a child facing the rear to ride in the front — and it is extremely dangerous for the child.
Despite the lack of prohibition by the state of Maryland against children riding up front, child safety experts recommend that children younger than 13 always ride in the back seat. Newer generations of airbags appear to be less dangerous for children, but riding in the front seat still increases the risk of injury to children by 40 percent over riding in the back.
Choosing the Right Restraint System
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises that you choose a child car seat according to your child’s age, height and weight. Select a seat that fits properly in your specific vehicle, and always use it.
You should always refer to instructions from your vehicle’s manufacturer; check your owner’s manual for information on installing your child car seat using the vehicle seat belts or the LATCH system. In addition, be sure to check the height and weight limits for the seat.
To keep your child as safe as possible in the car, have them ride in the same car seat for as long as they are within the height and weight requirements from the manufacturer. For maximum safety, your child also should ride in the back seat until they are at least 12 years old.
The NHTSA offers specific recommendations based on the age of your child:
- Birth through 12 months old: Any child younger than 1 year old should ride in a rear-facing child safety seat. Different types of rear-facing seats are available, including infant-only seats and convertible 3-in-1 seats. Convertible seats usually have higher weight and height limits when used in the rear-facing position, so you can have your child ride facing the back for a longer period of time.
- One to 3 years old: Your child should continue riding in the rear-facing position for as long as possible and until she reaches the height and weight limitations from the manufacturer of the car seat. When your child grows too big for the rear-facing seat, she can ride in a forward-facing child safety seat that includes a harness.
- Four to 7 years old: Your child should continue to ride in the forward-facing seat, with a harness, until she reaches the manufacturer-recommended height and weight limits. When she outgrows her forward-facing seat, she can ride in a booster seat that is also in the back seat of the vehicle.
- Eight to 12 years old: Your child should continue using the booster seat until she’s big enough to properly wear a vehicle seat belt. To make sure the seat belt fits properly, check that it lies against the upper thighs rather than the stomach. In addition, the shoulder belt should go across the chest and shoulder rather than across the face or neck.
If you or your child have been injured in an accident, work with experienced attorneys to ensure that your rights are protected. Please contact DuBoff & Associates, Chartered, for a free consultation.
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