All You Need to Know About Buckling Up in One Place

Buckling Up Older Kids

Is your child ready for a seat belt?

One of the most common questions parents have is “When can my child ride in the car using just the adult seat belt?” Whether parents ask what is the law or what is safest for their child, our answer is always the same: “When the adult seat belt fits properly." That happens when you can answer YES to all five of these questions:

  • Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
  • Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat without slouching?
  • Does the shoulder belt cross the center of the shoulder and chest?
  • Does the lap belt fit low and snugly across the hips—touching the tops of the thighs—not up over the abdomen?
  • Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?


If you answered NO to any of these questions, or if your child puts the shoulder portion of the seat belt under their arm or behind their back, your child needs a child restraint, such as a booster seat or high-weight harness seat, until the child can pass the 5-Step Test. Remember, use the 5-Step Test to check belt fit in every vehicle in which your child rides. Source: SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.

When can my child ride in the front seat?

When can my child ride in the front seat

For example, Washington law requires children under 13 years old to ride in the back seat whenever it is practical to do so. What does "whenever it is practical to do so mean?" Click heret for a handout with some explanation.

Buckling Up Tweens, 8 – 12 Years Old

Tweens are developing habits that they will carry into their teen and adult years. Yet, they are needlessly at risk when riding in motor vehicles according to a 2006 study by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety.

Did you know more than one tween passenger is killed in a motor vehicle crash every day (414 in 2004)? And three times as many tweens are injured (1,267 in 2004). Source: Fatality Analysis Reporting System

One major reason appears all too simple. Half of those who died were not wearing a seat belt and one third were sitting in the front seat. These tweens died not just because they got into crashes, they died because of where and how they were riding.

Tweens are in a time of transition — casting aside fantasy for reality — and paying more attention to peer pressure. One third of teens surveyed believed the back seat is safer, yet regularly still sit in front.

Research shows that children are 40% more likely to be injured in the front seat than if they had been seated in back. Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

So how do we keep tweens safely buckled in the back seat?

Here are some tips for parents:

how do we keep tweens safely buckled in the back seat
  • Reduce the peer pressure for tweens to sit in front, offer them benefits instead for buckling up in the back seat.
  • Buckle up yourself! Tweens still think of their parents as role models. Research shows that when parents are restrained, their children are more likely to be as well.
    Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Tell them it’s the law. Seat belts are mandatory by law and tweens in Washington are required to ride in the back seat until age 13 where it is practical to do so. Let tweens know that seat belt use isn’t an option, it’s the law.
  • Let your tween choose the radio station. Tweens said being in control of the radio is a major benefit of the front seat. Make a deal with your tween: if he sits buckled in the back, he can choose the station.
  • Give your tween something to do in the back seat. Electronic games and iPods can be stored in a back seat. Make games in the front seat off limits.
  • Let tweens “own” their space in the back seat. Tweens are eager to claim their own space. Let them set up places to keep things in a back seat and decorate their area so that’s the first place they want to go.
    Caution: be sure to store items that can become projectiles in a crash.

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Safe Seat Belt Use for Teens and Adults

Safe Seat Belt Use for Teens and Adults

Every passenger should always wear a seat belt! Even if the vehicle you’re riding in has one or more air bags, they won’t prevent you from being ejected from the vehicle, which was responsible for 28 percent of all car crash fatalities in 2006.*

*NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2006

Your seat belt will protect you from being thrown from the car. Air bags are designed to work with the seat belt as supplemental protection and they only work in some types of crashes. Seat belts spread crash forces across the strongest parts of our body—our hips and shoulders.

But in order to do this, the seat belt must be worn properly.

How should I wear my seat belt?

Poor Lap Belt Fit.

Poor Lap Belt Fit.

The lap belt is too high, up across abdomen.

Better Lap Belt Fit.

Better Lap Belt Fit.

But the upper body is still not restrained.

Best Protection is a Lap and Shoulder Belt.

Best Protection is a Lap and Shoulder Belt.

Wear the belt snugly across the center of the shoulder and chest with the lap belt low across hips.

  • The lap belt should be flat (not twisted). Wear it low and snugly over the hip bones (pelvis), not across the abdomen. The shoulder belt should cross the center of your shoulder and chest. Remove any slack.
  • Place your vehicle seat in an upright position. If you tip the seat back while the car is in motion, you could slide down and out of the belt in a crash or sudden stop.
  • If the shoulder belt rubs against your neck read your vehicle owner’s manual for tips on how to adjust the shoulder belt location up or down for a better fit. If it is not adjustable, try changing the position of the vehicle seat or the way you sit.
  • Never put the shoulder belt behind your back or under your arm. A shoulder belt behind the back leaves you wearing just a loose lap belt which can cause serious head injuries. A belt worn under the arm can break ribs and cause internal organ damage.
  • Never hold a child on your lap and then put the seat belt around both of you.
  • Never buckle two people into one seat belt.
  • The driver and front seat passenger should each sit at least 10 inches away from a frontal air bag.
  • Don’t let passengers put their feet up on the dashboard. That is where the passenger air bag is stored.
  • Be sure teens remove their backpacks before buckling up.

Why focus on buckling up?

Why focus on buckling up?
  • Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in the United States for children from age 2 to 14.* An average of 26 children ages 0-14 were killed in traffic crashes each year between 2002 and 2006 in Washington state alone.**
  • You are your child’s role model and research tells us that teens will model what their parents do. So, if adults don’t buckle up, it’s likely that their teens won’t either and, due to their lack of experience, they are much more likely to be involved in a severe or fatal crash.
  • It’s the law! The driver is responsible for all passengers under the age of 16. Passengers 16 years of age or older who are not properly buckled up can receive their own ticket.

*NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Laws Jan. 2008
**WTSC Preliminary Data 2007

Safe Seat Belt Use for Senior Drivers

Safe Seat Belt Use for Senior Drivers

As we age our flexibility, bone density, vision, range of motion and strength change. This makes it all that more important that we’re buckled up properly in case of a crash. The lap portion of the seat belt should remain low across the hips and the shoulder belt should fall across the middle of the chest and shoulder. Never put the shoulder belt behind your back or under your arm where it can break your ribs.

It’s important to keep your chest at least 10 inches away from the steering-wheel airbag. This can be difficult to do as our stature begins to shrink as we age. Adjusting the backrest of the vehicle seat backwards can help.

For your comfort and safety it’s important to make your vehicle fit you as safely as possible before hitting the road. Here are a few items to check:

  • Can you adequately reach the gas and brake pedal?
  • Do you have a clear line of vision over the steering wheel?
  • Does the center of your headrest hit the bump on the back of your head?
  • Are your mirrors adjusted properly?

If you have any difficulty with any of these items, consult an occupational therapist for advice on adaptive devices.

Buckling Up During Pregnancy

Buckling Up During Pregnancy

Research has determined that about one in every 25 pregnant women is involved in a police reported vehicle crash and approximately 17 percent of these soon-to-be-mothers weren't buckled up*.

Doctors recommend you always wear your safety belt while pregnant because you are your baby’s first car seat.

*Center for Injury Research and Control University of Pittsburgh

Wear your safety belt properly

Wear your safety belt properly

Push the lap part of the belt down low, under your abdomen. The shoulder belt should be across the center of the shoulder and chest.

Never place a safety belt under your arm or behind your back. Adjust your seat belt snugly. If you wear a heavy coat, open it and pull it to both sides, away from your belly.

Don’t disconnect the airbag

Doctors recommend pregnant women wear seat belts and leave the air bag on. The two systems work together to protect both you and your unborn child. Move your vehicle seat as far back as possible while still able to fully compress the gas and brake pedals.

Your breastbone should be at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel or dashboard. As your abdomen grows during pregnancy, move the seat back to keep as much distance as possible. Make sure all other occupants and objects are properly restrained.

Get yourself checked at the emergency department after any crash even a minor one. Your baby could be seriously hurt even if you do not seem injured.

To increase your safety

  • Drive or ride during daylight hours and good weather.
  • Ride with drivers who are alert, cautious and good defensive drivers.
  • Don't ride with impaired drivers.
  • Drive familiar routes.
  • Make sure your vehicle is well maintained.

Reduce the time you spend in the car

Reduce the time you spend in the car
  • Arrange for people to visit you or meet part way.
  • Combine errands to cut-down on shopping trips.
  • Shop online.
  • Ask someone else to make the trip.
  • Postpone trips until after pregnancy.
  • Arrange for increased telecommuting to work if possible.
  • Arrange for home nursing visits rather than trips to the doctor.
  • Fly rather than take long car trip's
Avatar of Kathy Warner

Kathy Warner

Kathy is a busy mother of two and a CPS technician for more than eight years. Her mission is to awaken parents to the importance of child passenger safety and show them the right practice. You can read more about her here

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