Here in Michigan, there are laws that require parents to secure children younger than 4 years of age in a child seat in the rear seat of the vehicle. Parents are allowed to place the car seat in the front seat of the vehicle ONLY if all available rear seats are occupied by children under the age of 4. Further, if the child under 4 is in the front seat, they may only ride in a rear-facing child seat IF the airbag is turned off. Serious injury and even death could occur to a child in a rear-facing seat if the seat is struck by an airbag.
How long do parents have to keep their children in child or booster seats? By Michigan Law, until they are 8 years of age or 4 feet 9 inches in height, whichever occurs first.
Keep in mind that these legal requirements here in Michigan are what we here at Smith & Johnson consider the "mandatory minimum". We recommend that our families and clients follow the suggestions made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. [NHTSA]
Birth-12 months: rear-facing only.
1-3 years: Keep the child in a rear-facing seat until their height/weight exceeds the manufacturers allowances. This is always safest.
4-7 years: keep the child in a forward facing seat with a harness until the child reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Once they outgrow the forward facing seat, it's time for a booster.
8-12 years: Keep the child in a booster until they fit in a seat belt properly. What is proper fit? Every 8 year old and car is slightly different. If the lap belt lies snuggly across the upper thighs, not the stomach and the shoulder belt lies snug across the shoulder/chest and not the neck, then they are ready. BUT – still keep them in the back seat, not the front, as that's the safest place in the vehicle for children.
Lastly, it's imperative that you make sure that the car or booster seats you've purchased are safe. There have been numerous recalls by various manufacturers whose seats and boosts have proven to be less than safe. Click HERE for an updated list of recalled seats.
If you follow these tips from NHTSA you can make sure that you children have the best chance to safely survive whatever life throws their way during an accident.