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Child passenger safety: an FAQ for Tennessee parents

It's a remarkable feeling, bringing your child home for the first time. Whether the drive is from the hospital or an adoption agency, you know you've been entrusted with a tremendous responsibility, not only now but for years to come.

You've probably already purchased a child car seat. But what do you need to know about the laws that apply to child passengers?

In this post, we will address some of the basic questions.

Are there national standards on child passenger safety?

Yes.

Federal guidelines setting forth minimum standards on child passenger safety laws date back to 1971. Traffic safety advocacy groups and the American Academy of Pediatrics have also recommended certain standards.

The standards generally call upon states to require young children to be in seats and restraint systems appropriate to the child's age and size. The goal is to use such seats and systems to minimize the number of kids injured or killed in car crashes.

Do states vary on what passenger safety seats and restraints are required?

Yes.

For example, 12 states have laws requiring rear-facing child seats for infants younger than two years old. Tennessee is not one of those states.

There are also six states with laws requiring seat belts for school bus passengers. Tennessee is not one of those states.

What is Tennessee's law on child passenger restraints?

Tennessee requires:

  • Rear-facing seats in the rear (if available) for children under the age of one year or who weigh 20 pounds or less
  • Forward-facing child safety seats in the rear (if available) for children age 1 through 3 and weighting over 20 pounds

For children age 4 through 8, the requirements depend on whether the child is less than 4 feet, 9 inches in height. If the child is between 4 and 8 years old and under 4' 9'', the law requires riding in the rear (if available) in a booster seat system meeting federal standards.

Tennessee's Child Restraint Laws have other details. Use the link above for a summary of the law from the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security.

Why is it so important for kids to ride in rear seats?

Young children should ride in rear seats, if available, because of the possibility of airbag deployment. If an accident occurred, the force of airbags puts kids at significant risk of harm from the airbags.

Why is it important for kids to use booster seats?

Seat belts are designed for adult bodies. It is important for the lap belt and shoulder belt to be positioned properly on the body, or else the belt system itself can cause serious injuries. Booster seats make sure children are best positioned so that the seat belt system covers their bodies where it is least likely to cause injury in the event of a wreck.

Does the American Academy of Pediatrics have guidance on car safety seats for kids?

Yes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) continues to update its recommendations on car safety seats for children. The APA encourages parents to not be in a hurry to have kids transition from rear-facing infant seats to forward-facing seats to booster seats. This is because, with each progression, there is less protection for the child.

In other words, when it comes to child safety seats, slow down and enjoy the momentous journey of being a parent.

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