Dangers of Not Using a Child Safety Seat for Infants

Tanya Davis

The first child safety seat laws went into effect in 1978. When car seat laws were first implemented, people were slow to respond. After all, they reasoned, “my parents never used one, and I’m okay.” Some parents traveled with their infant sleeping on the bench seat right beside them; some parents laid their child in a box or a laundry basket while driving.

Thirty years later, many parents still feel that car seats are unnecessary. They are bulky, heavy to carry, and expensive. Fastening your child in to the seat is not easy, and the straps seem to need continual adjustment. Plus, if you switch cars, you have to lug the seat over to it and strap it in—while juggling an infant. All of this adds up to a lot of stress for you and the baby.

But the statistics are really scary. In 2003, according to Safekids.org, 1,591 children under the age of 14 died in vehicle traffic accidents, and 220,000 were injured. Over 53 percent of those who were not strapped into a car seat died.

The use of a car seat reduces the risk of death for babies by 71 percent. Using car seats reduces the need for hospitalization by a whopping 69 percent for children under the age of four. And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 8,700 lives have been saved by properly installed child restraints.

Understanding what happens when you have a car wreck will help you better understand why child safety seats are so important.  When you are involved in a crash, vehicle speed has a great impact on the damage incurred from the crash, but the “energy” of the crash is the most important factor. Frontal and frontal offset crashes (think head-on or nearly so) are the most severe type of crash. This is because the direction and speed of the cars creates the highest “energy”.  These types of crashes are not only the most dangerous, but they are also the most common, comprising about 72% of severe crashes.

When you crash, the total force on each passenger creates something that is referred to as “ride-down time.” Ride-down time is the amount of time it takes for your body to come to a complete stop after the crash. Imagine that a vehicle traveling toward you crashes into your vehicle head-on. This causes a sudden stop—but your body is still moving. That’s where the majority of your injuries come from.

Now imagine your tiny, helpless infant strapped into his rear-facing car seat. The entire carseat cradles your baby’s back, head, and neck. There may even be foam cushioning, which protects him even more. The force of the crash is spread out; instead of snapping his weak neck, jerking the head backward, now the broader back area and head take on some of the pressure. The child obtains more “ride-down time” because he is so tightly strapped in. this is why you will often see a very bad crash with fatalities, but a child who was properly restrained in a car seat is completely unharmed.


Restraining your infant in a safety seat is the law in every state of the United States, as well as the District of Columbia and any U.S. Territory. Since motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for children, this law is a good thing. As a parent, your job is to keep your child as safe as possible. One of the best ways to do that is to always use a properly installed car seat—without exception.

Tanya Davis is a certified child passenger safety technician. View her blog at tanyadavis.blogspot.com