With Child Passenger Safety Week taking place this week, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute is encouraging parents and caregivers to learn about the importance of child safety seats and to take advantage of the state’s free resources and inspection services.

Making sure children are in the right car seat, and that it’s used correctly and properly installed, reduces the risk of serious injury and death in a crash. Unfortunately, the latest research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that nearly half (46%) of car seats are misused.

Last year in Indiana, 17 children under 13 were killed in passenger vehicle crashes. Of those, more than two in three were not in a child restraint seat, booster seat or wearing a seat belt, according to ICJI.

“Car crashes are a leading cause of death among children, but many of these deaths can be prevented,” said Devon McDonald, ICJI Executive Director. “I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure your kids are properly secured in a vehicle. If you have questions, we have technicians that can help.”

All week, free car seat clinics are being held across the state with a majority taking place on Sept. 25, National Seat Check Saturday. Parents and caregivers can have their car seats inspected, receive instruction on proper installation and get it installed by a certified car seat safety technician. They can also learn how to properly harness a child in the seat and check the seat for recalls.

Technicians are available by appointment year round at one of Indiana’s 100 fitting stations.

“Car and booster seats are the best defense for children in a crash, but only when used and installed correctly,” said Robert Duckworth, ICJI Traffic Safety Director. “Last year, our safety technicians completed more than 5,000 inspections and continue to be an important resource for parents and caregivers.”

Indiana law requires all occupants and children to be properly restrained in a vehicle. Children under eight must be in a federally approved child or booster seat in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. From eight to 16, children are required to be in a booster seat or can wear a seat belt, depending on their size.

Drivers are responsible and can be cited for each passenger under the age of 16 that isn’t properly restrained.

NHTSA recommends keeping children rear-facing as long as possible, up to the top height and weight allowed by their particular seats. Once a child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, they are ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. Once outgrown, a child should be placed in a booster seat until tall enough to fit in a seat belt properly.

Booster seats are an essential step between car seats and seat belts. These transitional seats position the seat belt so that it fits properly over the stronger parts of the child’s body. Parents and caregivers shouldn’t feel pressured to put their child in a seat belt too soon; however, once that time comes, it’s important to ensure the seat belt fits correctly.

The safest place for all kids under 13 is buckled up in the back seat.

Visit www.nhtsa.gov/TheRightSeat for more information on child seat safety.