One of the worst tragedies a family can suffer is an infant death, especially when it’s the result of a sudden disaster. Sadly, many young children are killed every year in vehicle accidents around the country, and these crashes often occur at low speeds and within a few miles of the home. Children under one year of age are especially vulnerable to trauma, as their bones and muscles haven’t developed to withstand the forces of a wreck. That’s why most states require parents to situate their young children in a car seat when driving.

How can a car seat prevent an infant death?

Child safety agencies have noted a tremendous positive benefit when parents use car seats properly and consistently. In fact, New York police compiled three years’ worth of crash reports from 2004 to 2006, and found that young children were four times more likely to be hurt in a vehicle accident if they were not placed in a car seat properly. Also, children who are placed in a car seat are 70 percent less likely to be killed in a crash. The numbers are clear: Car seats save lives and prevent injuries.

That’s because car seats are designed to secure children snugly and redirect the force of a crash around the child and toward the strongest parts of their body. This usually means the shoulders and hips. A car seat is designed to keep the child’s head still and supported even during a severe accident, so the chances of brain or spine trauma are much lower. As an infant death or disability is often the result of brain or spine trauma, it is essential that the child remain protected while in the car.

However, a car seat can only protect a child if it is installed correctly, designed to meet current safety standards and used consistently. Inconsistent use of a car seat remains the biggest safety issue for children in vehicles. In fact, in more than 90 percent of accidents involving an unprotected child, the parents owned a car seat that they chose not to use. This is an unnecessary risk, and no child should be put at risk to save a few seconds.

How should a car seat be used?

Most vehicles come with seatbelts that are only designed for older children and adults. Until around 2 years of age, the car seat should face the rear of the vehicle and, when possible, installed in the center of the vehicle to reduce the risk of injury in side impacts. Under no circumstances should the car seat be placed in the front seat. This can expose the child to injury should the air bag be deployed and strike the child’s head.

Modern car seats use shoulder straps for optimal protection and should be kept on top of the shoulders. Children placed in a car seat should not be wearing bulky clothing. If temperature is an issue, place a blanket over the child and harness once they are buckled in.

Before long, the child will outgrow their seat and be able to use the seatbelt correctly. Make sure they get to that point safe and sound by protecting them when they are little.