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March 21, 2011

Child Safety Seats: New Guidelines for Parents

New federal guidelines on child passenger safety advise parents to keep their kids in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, to keep them as safe as possible in a vehicle accident.

The new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines come on the heels of a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study, which looked at safety data on car accidents involving young children, and concluded that parents should keep kids in rear-facing seats until they're at least two years old or have clearly outgrown the seat. In short, parents shouldn't treat their kids' graduation to a forward-facing seat as an age-based milestone. As the NHTSA puts it, "there is no need to hurry to transition a child to the next restraint type."

You can read the press statement and new age-based child passenger safety guidelines on the NHTSA's website, but here's an outline for parents and caregivers to follow:

  • Birth to 12 Months: Always keep your child in a rear-facing car seat.
  • 1 Year to 3 Years: Keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. New studies show that a rear-facing seat is the best option for keeping your child safe in a car accident.
  • 4 Years to 7 Years: Your child should be kept in a forward-facing car seat equipped with a harness, until they've outgrown the seat.
  • 8 Years to 12 Years: Use a booster seat until your child is big enough to use a seat belt properly.

The new child safety seat recommendations are largely based on a combination of two factors that are unique to a young child's physical development: disproportionately large heads, and bones and musculature that may not be up to the task of providing adequate support for the head in an accident.

For more help understanding and complying with child restraint laws, check out and this Child Safety Portal from the NHTSA and this Chart of State-by-State Child Passenger Safety Laws.

December 28, 2010

Recall Total: Toyota to Pay $32.4M Fine

Toyota will pay $32.4 million in fines over the company's bungled handling of recent recalls that affected millions of Toyota and Lexus vehicles, under a deal announced last week.

The 2009 and 2010 Toyota-Lexus recalls were prompted by a number of incidents in which drivers reported gas pedals "sticking" and causing unintended vehicle acceleration. The problem was that the gas pedals were getting caught in the vehicle's floor mats. These "unintended acceleration" incidents grabbed headlines and the instant attention of worried Toyota and Lexus owners. But, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, early recall efforts by Toyota -- related to the pedal/floor mat issue and a separate steering column defect -- were too narrow in scope and didn't go far enough toward fixing the problems.

So, Toyota has agreed to pay the fines in response to the DOT's assertion that the company failed to comply with the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act's rules for reporting safety defects to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The $32.4 in fines adds up to the maximum possible penalty allowed under the law, and it's also the largest recall-related penalty ever paid by a car company, dwarfing the $1 million paid by GM in 2004, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For more information about the Toyota recalls -- and to understand the legal issues behind vehicle defects -- check out these articles from Nolo:

November 9, 2010

Drowsy Driving: AAA Sends a Wake-Up Call

"Asleep at the wheel" isn't just the overused metaphor flavor-of-the-month for politicians these days. According to a new study from AAA it's also a dangerous reality on the nation's streets and highways, one that's more common than you might think.

How bad is the problem of drowsy driving? 41 percent of drivers surveyed by AAA admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at some time in their driving history, and 10 percent of responders said that they had nodded off while driving at least once in the past year.

Being overly tired behind the wheel can pose many of the same risks that come from drinking and driving or talking on a cell phone or texting while driving. In terms of nationwide numbers, drowsy driving causes over 100,000 car accidents every year -- including 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths, according to research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Learn more about causes of car accidents and how to prove fault with Nolo's Vehicle Accidents articles and FAQ.