Whether you’re visiting family, enjoying the holidays, camping, or anything else, travel is a key part of making memories with your children. Unfortunately, traveling can be dangerous. Many drivers aren’t as attentive as they should be. Distracted driving plays a role in 20% of all crashes in Wisconsin. These drivers, plus other factors like weather and wildlife can put you and your children at risk each time you get behind the wheel.

Therefore, it’s essential to adhere to Wisconsin’s car seat laws. These laws are designed to protect your children in the event of a crash. That alone should be enough reason to adhere to them, but it’s also crucial to follow them so that you’re able to recover the damages you deserve if your child is injured in a crash.

If you don’t carefully follow Wisconsin’s car seat laws, the liable driver’s insurance company will argue that your child’s injuries could have been prevented if you had followed the laws. Don’t risk injuries, and don’t give insurance companies that ammunition. By following these best practices, you can keep your precious cargo safe.

1. You Need to Keep Your Child in Their Car Seat The Right Amount of Time

Wisconsin law requires children to be in a car seat until they’re four years old and weigh at least 40 pounds. Children must be in a booster seat until they either turn eight years old, weigh more than 80 pounds, or are taller than 4’9”.

Your child should be in a car seat until they can comfortably sit in the vehicle’s seat. This means their knees should be bent at the edge of the seat, and that their back should be against the backrest. Additionally, the seat belt should fit them properly at the shoulder and lap.

2. You Need to Use the Right Type of Car Seat

Kids younger than one or less than 20 pounds need to be transported in a rear-facing car seat in the backseat of the vehicle. Rear-facing seats are better equipped to protect a child’s neck, spine, and head, so they’re the preferred car seat for kids younger than one, but a good option for kids older than that too.

When using a rear-facing car seat, the top of your child’s head should have at least an inch of clearance below the top of the car seat, and make sure that the harness straps and chest clip are properly adjusted. Check your carseat’s instructions for more details on this.

If your child is older than one or more than 20 pounds, they can be in a forward- or rear-facing car seat, but it still needs to be in the backseat of the vehicle. Again, rear-facing car seats offer better protection. Consider using one even if your child meets the requirements to legally ride in a forward-facing seat. When you do use a forward-facing car seat, make sure your child’s ears are below the top of the backrest.

Finally, if your child is 4-8 years old and between 40-80 pounds, they can ride either in any of the options we’ve mentioned so far, or use a forward-facing booster seat in the backseat. When you use a booster seat, make sure that the seatbelt crosses the chest between the neck and shoulder, and crosses the lap rather than the stomach. Similar to a forward-facing car seat, your child’s ears should be below the top of the backseat’s headrest.

3. Your Car Seat Must Be Properly Installed

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, nearly half of all car seats and booster seats are installed incorrectly. Wisconsin law requires that you not only use a car seat, but that you install it in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications.

Before you drive with your child in the car seat, get it inspected at an approved site. This is usually a fire department or health department. You can search for car seat inspection sites in your area on the NHTSA website.

4. Always Pull Over if You Need to Remove Your Child From Their Car Seat

Did you know that it’s illegal to remove your child from their car seat for any reason while driving? It’s for good reason. As we mentioned earlier, distracted driving is a factor in 1 in 5 crashes on Wisconsin roads.

Removing your child from their carseat to change a diaper, to nurse them, or to feed them could lead to cognitive, visual, or physical distractions in the vehicle, increasing the risk of crashing. If you need to remove your child for any reason, pull over in an area where it’s safe to do so.

5. Remember That Preemies Have Different Car Seat Needs

If your child was born before 37 weeks, you should have a car seat test performed. During this test, your child’s care team will put them in the car seat for about two hours while monitoring the baby’s heart rate, oxygen levels, and breathing. The test is important, as not all preemies can safely sit in the position a car seat holds them in.

If your baby can’t sit in a car seat, you may need to use a car bed. This allows your baby to lie down while traveling. If a car bed is necessary, your preemie’s care team will provide further instructions for using it. Additionally, be sure to closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions for securing the car bed. If your trip is longer than two hours, stop frequently to get your baby out of the bed for a little bit.

6. Avoid Risks; Keep Children Out of the Front Seat

According to Wisconsin law, children in rear- and forward-facing car seats must be in the backseat if the vehicle is equipped with a backseat. Only children who can sit in forward-facing car seats can be transported in the front seat under extenuating circumstances. In this scenario, the passenger seat should be slid as far back as allowed, and the passenger airbag should be turned off.

That said, it’s not advisable to put car seats in the front seat. Always use an alternative vehicle. Children requiring a rear-facing car seat should never be transported in the front seat under any circumstances.

Protect Your Children and Yourself

Adhering to car seat laws is essential for your child’s safety, but it’s equally important to set a good example. By modeling safe driving practices, your children will be safer when they no longer need car seats and when they start driving on their own.

Injuries and impairments resulting from a crash could change the trajectory of your child’s life. To protect their quality of life, get in touch with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible following a car crash. Lawyers like Frank Pasternak and Jeff Zirgibel can negotiate with insurance companies to ensure you’re compensated with every penny you deserve.

About Pasternak and Zirgibel S.C.

Frank Pasternak and Jeff Zirgibel are experienced personal injury lawyers serving Wisconsin and the greater Milwaukee area. The firm maintains low client volumes so that each case enjoys the utmost attention and so Frank and Jeff can work directly with clients. It’s a treatment that’s rare among Milwaukee personal injury firms, but the results that clients have received illustrate the difference.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a car crash, don’t wait. Schedule your free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney today!