Myth 21: Carseats are safer than seatbelts for ages 2+.

23273103thbEvery child who is 1 year old and weighs 20 lbs. is allowed to ride in a front facing car seat (if only because they get too huge to fit rear-facing anymore) and at age 4 and 40 lbs they can graduate to a car booster seat until they turn 8 or until they are 4 ft. 9 inches tall. Endless studies show that carseats and booster seats are safer, safer, safer. But safer than what? And under what circumstances are they safer? Are parents even qualified to install the carseats they buy? Certified child passenger safety seat installers and Highway Patrol officers are required to complete a 4-day course on carseat installation. Do carseats and booster seats for children age 2 to 8 actually make your child safer or are you being bullied by carseat companies into spending $300,000,000 per year on complicated safety devices that have no more benefit than a properly used seatbelt? Is improved safety for small children through the use of carseats and booster seats a buckled down fact? Or is the sense that these seats provide more safety for your kids just a well marketed myth?

An Op. Ed. piece in the Wisconsin Badger Herald said, “Although it may seem inconvenient for parents to place their child in a car seat instead of just strapping them into a seat belt, it is better than placing them in a coffin.” Are those the options? Carseat or coffin? What if the U.S. Department of Transportation fatality data says “not so much” with the carseat or coffin analogy? What if a good old fashioned free seatbelt that comes ready-made with your car would not only save you money, but save your child? Aw, go on! That’s crazy talk!

How can you be sure that child safety seats are safer for children 2 and older than factory-installed lap and shoulder belts? Well, it’s obvious they are safer. They are big, fancy, expensive, and professionally designed to be safe. Plus, hundreds of industry sponsored studies prove that they are safer. But what does the data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) say about improved safety through safety seats? FARS reports data on all fatal traffic crashes occurring on public roads throughout the United States, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Their purpose is to provide an objective basis to evaluate the effectiveness of motor vehicle safety standards and highway safety programs. FARS data reveals that there has been no change in the safety rate of children in safety seats versus children in lap and shoulder belts in the period ranging from 1975 to 2003.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administratin (NHTSA) manual says that carseats are only “54 percent effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 in passenger cars.” Well, that sounds like an impressive number! So children who ride in carseats are 54% safer if than if they used seatbelts? No. That’s 54% safer than riding completely unrestrained. According to the NHTSA, children who ride restrained in lap and shoulder strap seatbelts are equally protected from fatal injury as those restrained in a carseat.

Carseat companies will concede that these statistics are true regarding fatal injuries, but will insist that they are backed up by the NHTSA when they say, “yeah, but…” carseats are more effective at reducing serious injury during a crash than a lap and shoulder belt system.

Steven Levitt, author of “The Seatbelt Solution” written on July 10, 2008 for his New York Times blog “Freakonomics” faced enormous challenges trying to organize an independent crash test of 3 and 6-year-olds in both safety seats and lap and shoulder belt restraints. Testing companies refused to help him because they were afraid of jeopardizing their contracts with carseat companies. One agreed to perform the test anonymously. The results of that independent crash test demonstrated that 3 year olds fared better in a seatbelt than in a carseat. 6 year olds were the same in either kind of restraint.

But crash test dummies are not real children. They held up well for the purposes of Levitt’s test, but neither safety seat manufacturer tests nor Levitt’s test are able to simulate the most common injuries to children in car crashes. The most compelling reason for choosing to use a booster seat or car seat for children between the ages of 2 and 4 is that children are more comfortable if their knees bend at the edge of the seat. So, to get nice and comfy they often slide their bodies down the seat so their legs feel more comfortable. Their seatbelts are then positioned over their abdomens instead of over the tops of their thighs and in the event of a crash, their supple little bodies just slide right out through the bottom of the seatbelt. This effect is called submarining. Crash test dummies are currently not supple or articulated enough to provide test data on submarining, but because of accident reports we know it happens.

Booster seats help support children in a frame that is more ergonomic for their smaller body size. The seats provide for the natural bend in their legs. Comfy, secure, sold! Ah, but here’s the rub and it isn’t from the seatbelt. AAA reports that 4 out of 5 safety seats are installed incorrectly. Part of the problem is that safety seats are not a “one size fits all” solution. Not all seats fit well in all cars and not all children fit well in all seats.

Susan Ferguson, senior vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says, “Your best bet is to take the child, the booster and the vehicle and test all three” at the same time. So there you are, a mom and her child going into Toys R Us, purchasing one car seat, taking it to the car, installing it, strapping the child into it, driving around the parking lot, taking the child out of it, uninstalling the seat, standing in line at the returns counter and returning the seat, purchasing a new seat… repeat… repeat… until sunset and the store locks you out.

Also, once you find the seat that fits both your car and your child. Don’t think you have won the war. Kids bodies grow and change very quickly. Lorrie Walker, chief training manager for National Safe Kids, said, “Parents really need to assess the child every few months in the safety seat and in the different vehicles he or she travels in”. So, in addition to possibly buying a new seat every few months, you want to make sure that the seat is installed correctly. Yes, you can take it down to the local Highway Patrol and ask for their help, but what about when this happens:
• Your child spills a drink all over himself and the seat. You take it out and hose it down. Reinstall seat.
• You lend the seat to the babysitter so she can take the kid to the beach. Reinstall seat in babysitter’s car. Reinstall seat in your car.
• Your husband comes home with a new gift wrapped minivan to replace the small economy junker you’ve been driving. The carseat comes out of the small car and goes right into the big car.

Do you take the carseat to the Highway Patrol every time you have to reinstall a seat?
Come on, do you really?

You can become a Certified Car Seat Installation Technician instead. All you have to do is Register with Safe Kids at, register for a $60 course in your area, spend 4 to 5 days in a classroom completing the course, pass a hands-on test and a written test to prove you know your stuff, participate in a car seat check-up event where parents bring their cars and car seats to you to inspect for proper installation, and after that keep your certification current by renewing your certification every two years. No problem. You will be assured that you are reinstalling that safety seat securely every single time!

So here is what we have come to accept. The law requires us to spend hundreds of dollars per child on an evolving collection of safety seats to fit our growing children and our cars. If your children are widely spaced, don’t expect to safely reuse carseats for the younger children. Safety seats typically have an expiration date of around 6 years. To be sure that you are not actually endangering your child by placing them in an improperly installed safety seat, you will want to be spending a lot of time at the Highway Patrol station or make the investment to become a Certified Carseat Installation Technician yourself. And for what? To use an aftermarket safety device that wasn’t even designed to fit in your car. You could just use “free with purchase” factory-installed lap and shoulder belt and receive equal protection from fatality and significant protection from serious injury.

But that is not ideal. You want 100% protection for your child. It is always better to be safe than sorry, right? You will happily make all of these aftermarket investments in time and money to avoid the shortcomings of the adult seatbelt arrangement your car manufacturer provided for you. It is part of the price of having kids and you do what you have to do to keep them safe. Well, that’s not good enough for some. Some people think it should be a lot easier than this to keep kids safe in the car. It shouldn’t require a special degree to properly select and install a safety device that the law requires you to use. It is setting parents up for failure and frustration.

The good news is there is a third alternative that some people are starting to take seriously and it doesn’t mean trading your car in for a bus pass. Some car manufacturers have already seen Shangri-La and are bringing it to you. Since 2005, Volkswagen has offered cars with integrated carseats that fit children ages 2 to 12. The 2008 Volvo V70 Wagon has a built-in booster seat with height adjustment to fit kids between 37 and 55 inches high and weighing between 33 to 79 lbs. And several other car manufacturers offer the option of an integrated carseat. Integrated carseats are the ultimate solution because they don’t require any special knowledge to install, and there is no question that they have been designed and tested to fit and perform well in the car they’re in.

Some other solutions that we have yet to see, but could be coming soon is a built in safety seat with a 5-point harness that would be appropriate for the wiggliest of kids. Or lap and shoulder belts with height adjustments to properly fit a child. Or retractable footrests that would enable a small child to extend his legs straight while wearing an adult seatbelt freeing him of the urge to slump out of the seatbelt to make his legs more comfortable.

Don’t these really simple common sense solutions to this safety seat issue make you feel like slapping yourself on the head and saying “I shoulda had a V8”? The carseat companies have done their job convincing us that carseats are the one and only safety answer and they have created a $300,000,000 a year industry by doing so. The truth is they are actually an expensive inconvenience that are nearly impossible for most people, 4 out of 5 to be exact, to use safely! Aftermarket safety seats are not the holy grail of car safety for our kids. That is a myth. The answer lies in redirecting that $300,000,000 million dollars a year into production of cars that come with safety equipment for kids. Safety doesn’t have to be complicated. Next time you’re shopping for a car ask the dealer for a car with integrated child safety features for todders and young children. If they don’t have one, go to another dealership. If enough consumers demand a little common sense from car manufacturers, the market will supply it sure enough, but not as long as we passively buy into the myth that aftermarket safety seats are good enough for our kids.

Though Provoking Semi-related Postscript:

On April 21, 2009 Autoblog published this article “REPORT: Federal laws keeping Volvo from offering safer child seats“. It seems that auto manufacturer Volvo has partnered with carseat manufacturer Britax-Romer to create a custom-made carseat model that fits and works perfectly only in Volvo vehicles. The intention was to create a carseat that would be supremely safe when used in Volvo vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will not allow that carseat to be sold in the U.S. because the “NHTSA has mandated that child seats cannot be vehicle-specific”…”every child seat must fit in every car”.

This is a two-sided coin. On the one hand it can be argued that both Volvo and Britax-Romer are trying to create the safest seat possible for children. It can also be argued that Volvo has found a way to present a safer option to the public without going to the expense of building cars with integrated safety seats (which they are doing in some models already), and Britax-Romer has found a way to expand their profit margin by creating vehicle specific models. The true motivation probably lies somewhere within a combination of both motives. Either way, what could be the NHTSA’s motive for denying the new product to be sold in the U.S.? Are they being irrationally bureaucratic? Are they trying to protect the consumer by not letting the market become flooded with vehicle-specific seats? Is inspection and regulation of so many seats too much of a logistical nightmare for all truly concerned with child safety? And wouldn’t the whole bloody mess just evaporate if all cars had the option to come pre-built with integrated safety seats?

60 Responses

  1. I think the issue is more that 4 out of 5 car seats are not installed properly. I question some of your statistics, but I would guess that IF there’s little difference in injury/fatality rate between car seats versus safety belts, it’s largely b/c of poorly installed car seats.

    It seems like the LATCH system with new car seats and cars will help immensely with this problem as more families switch to cars with this capability and seats that are compatible. We’ve found that this makes installation and moving the seat much easier. As accident statistics follow the new technology, I’m willing to bet that car seats will be shown to significantly reduce injuries and fatalities.

    Overall, a car seat just makes logical sense to me. We DO take the time to make sure it’s installed properly, and I feel confident that my 2 y/o is securely fastened in a seat that fits her. I know that she can’t “submarine” out of the belt, or simply slip it off her little shoulder.

    I’m sticking with a car seat.

  2. I think this is an interesting post, and I do like the option of built in carseats. But in the absence of those (and this is not exactly the economy for me to rush out and get a vehicle with them) I far prefer my children in car seats and boosters than not. I think the stats would show that children are safer in properly fitted carseats and boosters than in IMPROPERLY used seatbelts. And there is no way you can convince me kids will sit really well in a regular seatbelt when they are young. So sure the stats might say kids are basically as safe in a regular seatbelt, but that is almost certainly assuming proper use of said seatbelt.

  3. I agree with you. If you ask yourself why we believe, what we believe about car seats, it can all be traced to what car seat companies have told us and scary staticstics that were given to us FROM the car seat industry. Independent statistics show very little difference in fatalities OR injuries. My kids will be in boosters just for that teeny percentage that MAY favor car seats but we do not waste money on the $300 a pop car seats.

  4. Great post. Once we know/think something is “better” or “safer,” there’s almost no way not to do it, even if there’s little evidence to back it up. After all, who wants to do something that even might put their kids at risk?

  5. Um, here in the UK the properly trained fitters in shops which sell carseats will refuse to sell you a carseat until they have checked it fits your car and taught you how to use it and how to check it has been properly fitted. They also recommend that you check it every time it’s used. It’s quite difficult to buy a carseat from a reputable seller if you don’t have a car, in fact.

  6. I think you need to edit the first sentence of this. Babies are not “required” to be front-facing at one year; that is just the minimum age at which you may turn the seat around.

    The Web site is a good resource on car seat installation and safety and has a bunch of info on why rear-facing is the safest option, even after 1 year of age.

  7. […] Some of my favorite blurbs from her blog: Carseats are safer than seatbelts for those 2+ years old […]

  8. I dare you to test out this “busted myth” on a board full of mothers.
    Or on a place such as
    Or your local pediatrician’s office.
    Or the DMV/MVD.
    Or really anywhere that people have enough common sense to do what is SAFER. Properly installed carseats are safer. Period.

    • The problem with your statement is its just not in the data. You can think what you like, but until there is hard data is belief vs. reality. The data deniers want it both ways, if car seats are as good as you say they are why is it not in the data? Child death rates in accidents have not changed significantly, yet everyone is using car seats.

      There are many good reasons why the seat belt will be just as effective as a car seat, less connection points for example. The other thing is about car crashes. We can separate crashes into three groups: (1) Very light one (2) Med (3) Heavy. In light crashes the kid will be safe in either. In the heavy everyone in the car is dead, irrelevant of belts, etc. So now the only differences will be in the 3rd group of crashes. The question now is which device performs better? We would like to believe car seats do, but many of the injuries may be brain related, where its the actual deceleration from 60MPH to 0 and the brain bruising on the cranium. Simple laws of physics must be obeyed, and the type of restraints will not alter this sort of damage, in both cases its simple deceleration which is killing/harming the child.

      So its a complicated issue, and things may not be as obvious as we think. At a min car seats are not some panacea of safety, they only at best marginally increase the safety of the child over an old fashion seat belt.

      • How do you know the said data and the data analysis isn’t flawed or questionable? Why do you not believe years of research by expert scientists but choose to believe some random dirty analysis conducted by an economist?

    • Did you not just read the same article?? Safer than no restraint, you’re right. Safer than a seat belt, not according to testing.

  9. So, I should put my 18 month old in just a seatbelt, and she’d be just as safe?

    I think not. I hope your readers use common sense and keep their children in carseats to the appropriate weight and height.


  10. I don’t see how inbuilt seats “solve” the “problem”. What about rearfacing? You’ll still need to buy a seat for that. Also, the problem with saying that the only reason to use a 5 point harness after age 2 is comfort totally neglects the fact that maturity plays a MAJOR role in when a child should move from a 5 point harness to a booster seat. Whilst a booster may restrain a 2 year old (although I seriously doubt this as most boosters are not high enough to get a two year old in the right position) a 2 year old is not mature enough to know that he/she needs to sit upright the whole time in order for the seat belt to restrain them properly. This blog post seems very reactionary, you haven’t actually done any research yourself, nor have you looked at overseas stats. As for cost; a Cosco Scenera retails anywhere from $30 – $50 will hold a child from birth until around 4, then depending on what age your child outgrows this seat; if under 4 they can go into a Graco Nautilus (approx. $150) which harnesses then converts to a high back booster, then low back booster; or if the child is over 4 and you’re happy to move to a booster you can get some very cheap boosters. Yes most carseats can only be used for 6 years, but most people would have 2 of their children in that time space so you could divide those costs between children. If that’s too costly for you then perhaps having children isn’t really in your budget. There are plenty of independent sources promoting car seat use who have no vested interest. I too am stunned.

  11. Sorry, CHOP came out with a study right after the Levitt ‘Study’ that proved him wrong.

  12. The study that Jools has linked to by the Department of Biostatistics at University of Michigan is a probability study used to suggest the probability of fatalities, not count actual fatalities as Levitt did. It uses the same NHTSA/FARS information that Levitt used, then applied it to derive probability. The main difference between the two studies is the U of M study also includes statistics for rear facing infant seats. This Mommy Myth Buster article does not address the use of rear facing infant seats. It is about the safety of front facing seats for children 2+. The U of M results are also predicated on car seats that are “not seriously misused”. The entire point of this Mommy Myth Buster article is that most (4 out of 5) carseats ARE seriously misused.

  13. Goodness, this entry sounds whiny and childish. Oh, boohoo, poor you, you need to buy a correctly fitting child restraint for your child! It’s soooo difficult!

    The fact of the matter is that there are safe seats that are affordable for all parents, and that if parents read the manual and visit a technician, they can be used properly too.

    By the way, children who are over 1 and 20 pounds should still be in rearfacing seats.

    Your post is dangerous, misinformed, and obnoxious. Shame on you.

  14. Some thoughts:

    Although in some circles name-calling may be considered constructive debate (Joanna), I feel it would be more enlightening to hear exactly how the facts in this article are “misinformed”. All sources have been cited. “Dangerous” also seems like an odd accusation when the purpose of the article is to inform parents that there are even safer options than after-market carseats available, and that parents have the power to make those options even more readily available through savvy consumerism and advocacy.

    Read the opinions of other detractors who are discussing this article on

    Think about the reasons that people ferociously defend their belief systems. Sometimes we become angry when people challenge the things we believe because we have invested so much time and energy into promoting those beliefs. Our self esteem becomes bound to being “right” about those beliefs. But if we keep an open mind, sometimes we can more easily accept a shift when new information becomes available. There is no shame in releasing old ideas that are no longer supported by new information. It doesn’t make you “wrong” or anyone else “obnoxious” or “dangerous”, it just means it is time to reevaluate the facts and realize that our world is always changing.

  15. I’m entirely familiar with the discussion on, thank you 🙂

    As previous commenters have pointed out, your information is entirely incorrect. Look at the provided links. I stand by my original opinion.

    Sometimes parenting is a pain, sure. But car seats DO save lives, and kids who ride without them are more likely to suffer massive injuries or even die. And errors in car seat installation can cause the same.

    If you choose to have children, and you choose to put them in a vehicle, then you need to act like an adult and secure them appropriately.

    Genuine academic discourse about the validity of child restraints is one thing. Whining pathetically about how hard it is to pick out a booster seat (which can be done with perhaps half an hour of research on the internet and another half hour in any child store) makes you look childish, not informed.

    The statistics are firmly on the side of having children restrained in cars. To claim otherwise, completely outside of any leigitimate source of information, makes you look foolish.

    You actually cited Freakonomics. Freakonomics! Which has been categorically disproven and dismissed.

    “So there you are, a mom and her child going into Toys R Us, purchasing one car seat, taking it to the car, installing it, strapping the child into it, driving around the parking lot, taking the child out of it, uninstalling the seat, standing in line at the returns counter and returning the seat, purchasing a new seat… repeat… repeat… until sunset and the store locks you out.”

    What is this? Really? Seriously?

    A budget conscious parent can keep her child safely restrained under 100 dollars . Sure, the seats are ‘bottom-of-the-line’ but they still pass minimum testing and serve the purpose.

    CPSTs work very, very hard to educate, inform, and make sure the general public is protected. They do this on their own dime, without thought of financial compensation.

    Your ‘blog’ serves no purpose other than self-entitled whining.

  16. Lots and lots more name-calling, but still no data to disprove the NHTSA and FARS data the article cites as support and these are the highest non-carseat-industry-sponsored sources on the subject.

    If you have ever worked closely with government funded initiatives, as I have, you are aware that private industry will often work with lawmakers to make use of their product a legal requirement. Also, those same industries sometimes (sort of anonymously) create and fund advocacy groups that will do lots and lots of studies to prove that the law makes sense and it does indeed serve the greater good of the public. It is a very effective strategy that serves to convince the general public of a “myth”.

  17. “The entire point of this Mommy Myth Buster article is that most (4 out of 5) carseats ARE seriously misused.”

    Thats sounds right from the CPST course I took several years ago.
    In my practice as a car seat technician and as a pediatrician most of the mistakes I see with car seats are because of parents not reading the directions!
    They are easily correctable mistakes.

    • Actually they are not easily correctable mistakes, people are people, and the devices must be installed correctly, and having millions of parents to read the “rube goldberg” instruction and properly install the seats is a problem. Vs. the existing seat belts that everyone knows how to use, and provide similar safety levels.

  18. Forgive me if the challenge has already been extended… but it sounds like you (general for all that are naysayers for the safety of using carseats) are willing to test out this theory with your kids? Do you believe it enough to do that? If someone has to work this hard to convince even a minority of people that this is “right”, it’s not. I’ve learned to trust my Mommy Gut and regardless of any carseat safety knowledge I have to date, even if I had none, I would at least know that kids are safer in carseats and staying restrained (rear-facing, nonetheless) as long as is possible. Our restraints are worth every last penny spent on them, and then some!
    And I’ll stand behind that 110%. I hope the parents and caregivers reading this go with their “Mommy Gut”, too, because it may save them a lot of heartache should they be in an accident.

  19. Guts aren’t facts. And the facts state that 4 out of 5 people are misusing carseats to the degree that they are dangerous. Carseats, when used correctly are certainly safer than the seatbelt alone. Nobody disputes that. But AAA says that 4 out of 5 carseats are installed dangerously incorrectly. That statistic is supported by FARS data that there has been no decrease in the number of deaths in over 30 years since carseats became widely used. Quite simply no amount of guts diminish the facts and I’ll lay my money on facts over guts every time.

    The challenge to “test out this theory with your kids” is an empty challenge. It is impossible to carry out. First, it is illegal. Second, it requires willfully engaging in a sever car crash. What you are really asking is do you believe the facts? The answer is yes. Why would I knowingly disbelieve facts.

    Nobody here is advocating for taking kids out of carseats. To start, it is currently illegal and therefore not an option. There is only the effort to encourage all parents to take a critical look at what you are being told, and ask, “Is this correct?” In this case what we are being told by the carseat industry is not correct. In this case the next logical step is to create a demand on the car manufacturing market for integrated safety seats. That solves the problem.

    • I still don’t understand how so many people could possibly install the seat incorrectly. That said, I sure am tired of the damned things.

      And now that I’ve read this, it does seem strange that a seat to fit a kid is an accessory and not part of the car. I mean: the seat, for cryin’ out loud. Pretty basic part. I had to look it up, and it looks like about a quarter of potential car passengers are Children-Americans. And the car doesn’t come equipped for them. Funny.

      Interesting article – thanks. Also interesting how much of a hot button it seems to push. Almost as much outrage as the lady who let her kid take the subway home…

  20. The fact that 4 out of 5 carseats are used incorrectly is the sole reason behind the fact that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for kids . . . unless of course you count the numerous children who are not in carseats, which is an even greater risk than an incorrectly installed carseat…. Even incorrectly used carseats offer more protection to children than just the carseat.

    If Levitt is so sure of his research (although the rest of the world devoted to far greater research on the topic says otherwise) then he should have submitted it to peer reviewed medical or injury prevention journals. No, instead, he’s merely out to make a buck with parents who don’t know any better.

    The very clear fact of the matter is that carseats do save lives, thousands of lives each year in the US alone. Ask the Scandinavians why their preschoolers still ride rear-facing. Ask the Germans why their kids are required to use boosters until 12 yrs old.

    The laws of PHYSICS speak for themselves.

  21. typo > even incorrectly used carseats offer more protection to children than just the *seatbelt*. (oops)

  22. PapoosesCPST: It would be helpful if you could provide data that contradicts the AAA and the NHTSA/FARS data to demonstrate that “incorrectly installed carseats are safer than seatbelts”. Although I don’t know where you can find a more reliable source of this information than the NHTSA itself.

    Regarding Levitt being “out to make a buck”. That may or may not be true, but it is hard to imagine considering he is not selling anything. He is trying to motivate advocacy for factory installed integrated carseats to come with all cars, instead of requiring parents to make additional after-market purchases. His motivation for this advocacy is to save parents money and make their kids safer. (I’m not guessing about that, he said so in his live presentation that is available on the internet.) Why would anyone be suspicious of those motives I wonder?

    Why would anybody object to advocating for a safer, cheaper option? Are we so invested in our old ideas, and so attached to being “right” about those ideas, that we can’t make changes for the better?

    • I hope your mind has changed on this topic over the years. Since car seats have improved, now the NHTSA, CDC, and AAP recommend keeping children rear facing as long as possible, and in a 5 point harness as long as possible.

  23. Mommy Myth Buster, you are clearly wasting your breath arguing your point with these people. I don’t think any of them understood your article. I guess it proves your point, though. There will be no such thing as mandatory integrated car seats that will actually save lives so long as consumers are content with the status quo. They’re actually getting angry at YOU for pointing out the problems with the car seat industry! Wouldn’t it be nice if these same people put their energy into something productive, like voicing their anger to a system that needs to be changed? I remember reading (on, mind you) about how car seat technicians did not recommend any aftermarket product be added to a car seat because it could negate the safety of said car seat (because an aftermarket product is not designed for any particular brand of car seat, therefore couldn’t be proven to work). The irony was not lost on me and no one pointed out that a car seat IS AN AFTERMARKET PRODUCT! Remember the test that Consumer Reports did a few years ago that basically questioned the safety of just about every car seat, with only a few exceptions? Remember how quickly they were put in their place? They had to retract their statements, but if one were to dig further into that story, you would know who forced their hand. People, ignorance is not bliss!

  24. Somehow, all of us managed to grow up and not die during the era where (god forbid) we were allowed to use seat belts as children (and sit in the front seat, yet!). What massacre of the young am I forgetting from that era?
    I work in a major children’s hospital (trauma center), and I must have FORGOTTEN all those children who would be alive today if only they had been in booster seats.
    Seriously, the only kids I’ve seen have been ones not in any restraint, not in a restrained car seat, or “oops I flipped my SUV and landed in a ditch”.
    I am not going to buy yet another piece of plastic crap just because the MANUFACTURER says it’s safer. Safer than what? How about I actually spend time with my kid instead of lugging around all their superfluous safety equipment, and talk to them instead of putting them in the back middle seat (which is just as much safer to sit in for you as it is for your kid but I don’t see anyone else sitting there…)

  25. I would LOVE to see integrated car seats in every car because we do no own a car. On purpose. We have no desire to have a car.

    But I’m not deluded enough to think that my booster seats, thrown in a cab, are safe. For the 10 minute cab rides we have, the kids sit with their backs against the seat, belts on correctly. Anytime I used the boosters, they slid around, the kids moved down-I felt highly uncomfortable, and worried. (I believe in my city, cabs are considered public conveyance, and the car seat is not legally required. That’s what I was told)

    My inlaws though, have a fantastic van with built in seats, and I LOVE that thing. I don’t worry one bit that they’ve put the seat in wrong, or that I have. We just pop them in.

    It’s always seems like a bit of a scam-buy this seat, then this one, and oh, now you need one until they’re 8, so this one as well. I want my kids safe-but I do NOT want to be paying to follow a law that has been mostly created by the manufacturer.

    Hot damn I wish that was illegal.

    As someone who doesn’t own a car, I end up feeling that no matter what I do, I’m endangering my children.

    It’s enough to keep me on the bus most days.

    Thinking critically about what we’re told isn’t a bad thing, instead of just automatically shilling out because you’ve been told to. If we were to get a vehicle, it would be with the integrated seats.

  26. Shay ~ The reason why “those people” don’t agree with the article is because they’ve done their own research and have seen that integrated seats do not cover all the bases well. The harness heights are not adjustable (harness straps for a forward facing seat should be at or just above the shoulders for optimum safety), they don’t address the fact that rear facing is significantly safer (I’m yet to see an integrated rear facing feature?)
    Miriam ~ How is talking to your child going to keep them safe in a car? I think I’ve missed your logic on that one. There are plenty of stories out there (check YouTube or Google) of parents losing children because they were not aware of the safety benefits of keeping children rear facing beyond 1 year, or keeping them harnessed beyond 4, or keeping them in a booster until they actually fit the adult belt by itself. Are you unable to see how the middle back seat is the safest? The reason why most adults don’t use that seat is because they often only have a lap belt (which is perfectly safe for restraining a car seat, but not for an adult)
    Thordora ~ I can assure you that the push to keep children in carseats longer is not done by manufacturers. It’s only recently that carseats have been able to harness beyond 40lb, whereas those passionate about car seat safety have been wanting this for a LOT longer than that, same with higher rf limits.
    For those saying we are just happy with the status quo because we are blinded by marketing, please let me know the other research you’ve done on this, or other articles, or studies to back your point of view.

  27. Catherine,
    How can you “assure” us that “the push to keep children in carseats longer is not done by manufacturers”? All of the evidence indicates that that is exactly who is “pushing to keep children in carseats”. Simply “assuring” somebody of something doesn’t make it true.

  28. You can watch Steven Levitt’s lecture about carseats on

    If you don’t understand why they really are not that much safer after a child is two, it’s very helpful to hear him speak.

    It’s also pretty obvious that he isn’t in it for the money, as there is no gain availabe to him. He’s just a guy who likes to research these things. I posted about this in a href=””>my first Rational Moms post.

  29. Okay, got the second link wrong. (Ahem.) There is no gain available to him. Sorry about that spelling.

    And here is the link to the RM post. I hope.

  30. Thank you for posting this blog.

    I’ve been suspicious of the car-seat safety mania for a while, and I often feel like the only one who doesn’t find the whole thing a bit of a scam. I just don’t understand how all of a sudden, seat belts aren’t good enough, and oh wait, here’s a private profit-driven company that makes a product that exploits that fear. Isn’t creating a ‘need’ what advertising is all about?

    Now I feel less alone. I shared this blog on my FB page and got very little response, because I know I’m in the minority, but I also know people will be reading, and if it makes them think, and stop looking down their nose because they’ve got a Britax Marathon and someone else has a mere booster, that’s good. I’m glad to know other mums can critically think about the issues instead of blindly following the latest fear crazed mania.

  31. When we were bringing my first child home from the hospital we stopped by for our daily visit to Babies-R-Us. There happened to be a car seat installation check being held by the local police at that point. What the heck, I went by for the once-over.

    The officer said everything was installed fine. He made a small tweak to the angle of the seat, tilting it back a little more(*).

    However, even though I had it in right, since he made that small adjustment he logged it as “installed incorrectly”.

    Since then my wife and I have taken those “installed incorrectly” statistics with a very big grain of salt…and have never visited a seat-check since.

    (*) Later we un-tweaked it on advice of the doctor, sitting her a little more upright, as one of the suggestions for helping with her GERD.

  32. I’m a tad late to the party, but …

    I’ve taken every carseat we own (2 models, 4 seats, 4 cars — across our immediate extended family) to the nearby firestation to have them fitted by trained personnel. A minor hassle, sure, but not wildly difficult (and a thrill for my toddler now that we’re at that stage: Look!!! Firetrucks!!!). The personnel there have installed them, and him, and reviewed with me (and whoever else was present; depended on whose vehicle it was) how to install safely and ensure the installation was correct. There are some pretty simple checks, like does the base wiggle more than 1″ side-to-side (if so, the belt holding it is too loose).

    With this done, I do feel much better about having 2.5 y.o. DS in a carseat (not yet a booster, and I’ll keep him in the seat as long as he fits) with a 5-point harness than I would about having him in a seatbelt. That is, I’m confident he is safer: correctly installed seat, middle of the car (where he’d otherwise be in just a lapbelt in 2/4 of our vehicles) 5-point harness. What’s not to like?

  33. Great article, love your blog. Kate – yeah, exactly what you said is how I feel. I often feel like the irresponsible Mom because I put my almost 5 year old (who is 95% for height and weight) in a booster seat and not in a 5 pt. harness.

    So what are the thoughts on 5 pt. harnesses? If they are in fact the safest way to go, why don’t car companies start including them as a regular part of the seatbelt (for adults too?) Race cars have them, why can’t passenger cars?

  34. Catherine, thank you for proving my point. I will repeat it. There will be no significant change to the car seat situation as long as consumers are content with the status quo. The truth that nobody can deny is that the car seat industry is deeply flawed. I believe the point of the original article was just that. The point I was trying to make in my first comment was that we need to be unified on this subject, not at each other’s throats. You are absolutely right when you say that integrated car seats are not yet up to standard. I should have added to my comment that with consumer pressure to make integrated car seats mandatory, we should also pressure them to make them actually work for the particular car they are being integrated into. But, alas, that would require the car manufacturers to do extra research for every make and model – not likely to happen. You were also right when you said that you have yet to see a rear-facing integrated car seat. To my knowledge, they don’t exist. That doesn’t mean they can’t exist. I have already thought of several ways they could work and I am not an engineer. If I can think of some ways to make this happen, so can an expert. It all comes down to money and what we are all willing to accept. Since the integrated rear-facing car seat is not likely to happen any time soon, then our best bet is to use rear-facing car seats like they do in Europe. The Consumer Reports test that I mentioned compared American models vs. European models and theirs were much safer. But their cars are also equipped for them. Why? Because the consumers demanded it!
    I would also like to address the question about 5 pt. harnesses. They have been proven to be the safest way for everyone to drive, including adults. The automobile industry knows this but also knows that consumers will be in an uproar over them so they won’t integrate them, according to the same Consumer Reports article.
    We seem to forget that we’re the ones with the power. Let’s exercise it, shall we?

  35. I posted above and am back with more thoughts (and experiences) on this issue.

    As I said above, I’m happy with our carseats for my 2.5 y.o. That said, I recently checked the carseat installed in my mom’s car for my son, and though it had been installed by a trained professional (fireman), it had loosened. I had to tighten it back in (center seatbelt, the type that has a manual adjustment, not an automated won’t-retract type). Obviously this is a problem/concern that wouldn’t exist with a child strapped into a seatbelt, i.e., presumably one would check the seatbelt snugness each time.

    On the other hand, I was recently traveling with my son and did not pack our carseat — instead I used a booster seat provided by the family we were visiting. DS met its height/weight requirements and sat it in, with the regular seatbelt guided across his waist and shoulder just as it would be for an adult (i.e. appropriately positioned for his smaller size). Great, but as is true of most seatbelts, the shoulder portion of the belt is flexible, extending out and back except for tightening in a sudden stop/crash. Anyone care to guess what a 2.5 year old does with that? He plays with it. Enthusiastically. Repositioning the shoulder portion of the belt so that it is not correctly fitted over his shoulder, but instead going across his chest under his arm (probably reasonably safe) or across his neck (not so much). Even seated next to him in the backseat I had a hard time getting him to quit squirming and leave the belt where it needed to be, and had it been just him and me driving, it would have been completely impossible. The 5-point harness in his carseat makes this a complete non-issue as it’s set up to be something he cannot manipulate (other than sliding the cross-the-chest bit down, which he still can do but which has limited entertainment value and he mostly ignores).

    All of which is a long way of saying that in actual use, I’ll stand by carseats though clearly it’s important regularly to check that they stay securely installed even after they’ve been put in place, at least in older cars.

  36. So if you are able to afford a $45,000 Volvo, shouldn’t you be able to pop for a $200 carseat?
    Most sears you can purchase today can be used from birth until grade school so it’s nit true that you would need a new seat every few months. Instead if splurging on a Nintendo system for your kids, buy them a decent carseat that will keep them un a 5 point harness as long as possible. Most people don’t question spending more fir a safer car, why should our standards for our kids be any less?

  37. Most people who spend more for a safer car don’t expect seatbelts to be an optional extra.

  38. […] takes it to the technician to have it installed can feel like a “good” parent. But as this cranky mom points out, a system that lets people feel like they’ve won Safe Parent Of The Year is not […]

  39. I like carseats with a 5 pt. harness, and having these built into a new car are great ideas, possibly. The thing I like about carseats, though, is that its another barrier in a car crash.

  40. Thanks so much for this article! I have two small children who are both currently in infant car seats, and I have been doing much research into booster seats. After looking around for a very long time, I completely agree with you… I cannot find any reliable research (not done by car seat manufacturers) that states that booster seats are indeed safer. When my son grows out of his infant car seat, he will sit on a regular seat in the car. In my province, it is not law that he must be in a booster seat, and I’m very thankful for that!! We are one of the last provinces in Canada not to fall for this money sucking “safety” idea to make sure every parent buys a new car seat and booster seat for each child. It’s madness!

  41. So I have a 11 month old son and 2.5 year old son. I own 2 Britax maratons and 1 evenflo booster (not sure the exact style). My 11 month old had grown out of the bucket seat and we needed to get him into a regular carseat. We have 3 vehicles and didn’t want to mess with switching them between vehicles. We do like our marathons but do not have the money right now to buy 3 more of those or 3 frontiers. I read so many reviews and could not decide btwn the Cosco High Back Booster, the Graco nautilis, and evenflo triumph (they were all recommended by friends) so we bought one of each. So now the 11 month old has our 2 marathons and the evenflo triumph and the 2.5 year old has our older evenflo booster, the nautilis, and the cosco. In summary, they all are fine. Yes, the boosters and nautilis sit more upright then the marathon but my 2.5 year old does not sleep much in the car anyways ad the frontier (by the looks of it) would have been very upright as well. They are all sturdy and both my sons fit well in all them and they do not mind any of them. Britax is more plush than the booster or nautilis but does not look like the Britax frontier was very plush. The triumph looks very much like the marathon and is just as plush. I don’t know why I was freaking out so much reading millions of reviews since they all are about the same and all had good safety ratings. I have not had to clean any of them yet

  42. Your web site won’t show up correctly on my blackberry – you may want to try and repair that

  43. Great post! Safety plays an extremely important role when parents purchase car seats. Parents have to be careful enough to find out whether car seats recommended is safe enough for their babies and companies should take safety issue into account during their manufacturing process.

  44. I live in a state where 7 year olds are required by law to be in boosters. As I was putting my friend’s son in my van I realized that he would have fit perfectly in the car’s seat belt, but that the booster put his head too high over the back of the headrest. What would you do? I was required by law to use a piece of equipment that actually would have caused more harm than good in a severe car accident. Foolishness.

  45. May I simply just say what a comfort to find an individual who actually knows what they are discussing on the internet. You definitely know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people really need to read this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you’re not more popular given that you certainly possess the gift.

  46. Great article. Well written and well referenced. Thanks.

  47. It seems that the point of this entry to me was the ever present trend toward absolute safety and how that’s simply not possible. My boys (7 and 5) are both in booster seats. It seems that every couple of years, we’re told to keep our children rear facing longer, in 5 point harnesses longer in boosters longer to achieve ABSOLUTE safety. Anything else is negligence and ignorance. I have actually read where both boys should in fact still be in a 5 pt harness. My 7 year old is a long torsoed, almost 75 pound boy. He sits in a booster properly. He’s as safe as *I* can possibly make him.
    This entry does not seem to suggest that we throw our 18 month olds in the car unrestrained and hope for the best.

  48. I loved your article. Mommy gut is dangerous. I have a friend who will not let her daughter go 6 doors down to play with a friend unless she is watching out the window the whole way. I tell her the numbers on abduction by strangers…. .5 per year in Canada… still no way Mommy Gut. I got into a fight over a Facebook post she made about a story about a child who claimed they were grabbed after school by a man who they kicked and got away. I looked at all the evidence and told her the child was lying… she was apoplectic. Turns out the kids was and everyone but the Mommies knew it.

    So many parents are raising their kids in a sea of fear and if you question it they say if there is any chance they will not take it. No matter that recent data is showing real psychological harm in children growing up under this. So long as they can deliver a live body at 18 they think they have done their job.

    I think being a parent is about being constantly in fear and mastering it so your child grows up not afraid of the world around them. A world btw which in all categories is safer than it has even been in history.

    So thanks for your data. I’m going to use it and move my kids out of Car Seats and into boosters. Am I taking a chance with them? NO I’m protecting them with the best Math has to offer on the subject.

  49. Reblogged this on Blissfully Informed Hippie Chick and commented:
    An understanding of statistics is severely lacking amongst the general population, so it’s always nice to find someone who can decipher them with the help of a little critical thinking.

    “How can you be sure that child safety seats are safer for children 2 and older than factory-installed lap and shoulder belts? Well, it’s obvious they are safer. They are big, fancy, expensive, and professionally designed to be safe. Plus, hundreds of industry sponsored studies prove that they are safer. But what does the data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) say about improved safety through safety seats? FARS reports data on all fatal traffic crashes occurring on public roads throughout the United States, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Their purpose is to provide an objective basis to evaluate the effectiveness of motor vehicle safety standards and highway safety programs. FARS data reveals that there has been no change in the safety rate of children in safety seats versus children in lap and shoulder belts in the period ranging from 1975 to 2003.”

    • If a system can stop you from leaving the vehicle without harming you itself in doing so then it has done all that can be done. Seat belts with shoulder harnesses do this just fine.

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  51. I’m more concerned about all the babies that die because they are left strapped in a car seat. What are the statistics on babies forgotten by
    caregivers and left to die in hot cars. Why can’t they make an alarm that will alert the parent, grandparent, etc. when the car is in park and there is still weight in the babies seat?

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