It may seem like a silly, no-brainer question, but believe it or not, it is a very popular one that comes up often in online forums on baby rearing websites.
Some readers may cringe at the thought of merely restraining your baby in the car with a baby carrier, but others may be questioning it for various reasons.
The first two have to do with the hassle of dealing with a car seat.
Switching vehicles means switching over a car seat, and for some that can be a pain. For shorter rides or trips that do not involve highways, you may think that carrying your baby in a carrier may be easier.
Car seats that come with an interlocking carrier can also be a pain (literally). They are heavy even without a baby inside, weighing an average of 9-10 pounds on their own.
Add the weight of a 10-15 pound baby, and your back and shoulder may begin to ache just thinking about it.
Baby wearing is a great alternative to lugging around a car seat carrier, as it keeps you upright and hands free, so it is understandable that baby wearing parents may ask if they can skip the car seat altogether.
The third reason is one every parent can sympathize with: the fear of waking a sleeping baby.
If your baby has fallen asleep on you in her carrier, it can feel like the threat of improperly disarming a bomb when it comes time to take her out and put her into her car seat. You may think, maybe it is just easier to leave her where she is.
The truth is, there is no alternative to a properly fastened and fitted car seat when it comes to traveling by car with your baby. Nothing else has a higher chance of saving her than her car seat, and restraints such as carriers or seat belts may even do more harm.
Danger Of Relying on a Seatbelt
While it may seem like an easy option to keep your baby out of a car seat on a short or safe drive, either being held, in a carrier, or buckled with you, none of these things can save her in the event of a car crash.
In order to fully understand the danger of relying on these things, we need to take a look at the physics behind a car crash.
In the event of a crash, objects within the car take on much more weight, which ends up equaling the weight of the object times the speed you were traveling. That means if your baby is a mere 10 pounds, and you crash going only 35 miles per hour, your baby will feel like 350 pounds in your arms.
No human being has the physical arm strength to hold that much weight while their body is being thrown forward during a crash, nor are baby carriers made to hold that much (with the majority of them maxing out at 25-30 pounds).
With that much weight and the force of the crash, the carrier will break apart immediately and your baby will fly out.
By looking at these two videos, you can see how holding your baby or using a carrier during a crash is highly dangerous and life threatening.
If that didn't scare you, then this one will...
Upon reviewing the physics, we can now also understand how fastening a seat belt around you and your baby is also highly dangerous.
If your body takes on the weight of the crash, your baby will easily be crushed between you and the seatbelt.
Legal Issues When Using a Baby Carrier in a Car
It would be so simple if there was a law that stated, “It is illegal to use a baby carrier as a safety restraint in a moving vehicle,” but unfortunately there is not.
So, we need to take a look at car restraint guidelines and state laws regarding child car seat regulations in order to determine the legality of this issue.
In the majority of the 50 U.S. states, children up to the age of 5 or 6 must be properly secured with a child restraint device, and up to the age of 16 must always have a seat belt.
There are also many states that require the use of a booster seat until either the age of 8 or 60-80 pounds, depending on the state.
According to the CDC, there are also regulations as to the type of child restraint that is to be used based on the child’s age :
Rear facing car seat
These should be used until the child is 2 years old, on average. The only exception to this is if the child outgrows the height or weight limit of the seat being used.
Forward facing car seat
These should be used between the ages of 2 and 5, at least, or until your child has grown out of the height or weight limit of the seat.
The child should be at least 5 years of age before changing to a booster seat, and the seat being used should accompany the seat belt properly. The belt should lay flat on the lap (upper thighs) and across the chest (not neck).
Only when the seat belt fits properly -- across the upper thighs and chest -- can your child ride in a car without a booster seat. Seat belts are always to be worn in the back seat of passengers up to the age of 16-18 years old, depending on the state, and always in the front seat.
Any violation of these laws and regulations can result in a standard offence.
While the terminology may not seem severe, when the case inevitably goes to trial the verbiage will call this a “felony”, and it is punishable by more than one year in prison or possibly even death, depending on the case.
What About Public Transport?
Another problem that brings about the question of the use of baby carriers in the car is when it comes to public transportation. For those who live in city areas, the use of taxi cabs, buses, or trains is very common.
Unfortunately, these do not come equipped with car seats, and some cannot accommodate them.
For those parents, we do not have a precise answer for you, as laws regarding child restraints on public transportation are not as clear. Many buses and trains do not come fitted with seat belts, so taking along a car seat is out of the question.
Taxis, on the other hand, are just like any other car, and even though it may not be the most ideal thing, taking along a car seat when you need to take a cab is the safest thing to do.
While it may be easy to tell you just to avoid public transportation, we know that in some cases it is just not possible. If you do depend on public transportation to get around, whether it is running errands or taking your child to daycare on your commute to work, you may be able to get by carrying your baby in a pack with some peace of mind.
A recent study by the Victoria Transport Policy found that public transportation is much safer than your average ride in a personal automobile.
It was found that traveling by car is ten times more dangerous than taking public transportation, likely because of the amount of training required to operate a public transportation vehicle, and due to their large size being easily visible.
Car Crash and Child Safety Restraint Statistics
All in all, it is safe to say that proper child restraint seats are the safest way for a child to travel in a vehicle. According to the CDC, car seat use reduces the risk of death in infants under the age of 1 by 71%, and ages 1-4 by 54%. Booster seats and seat belts have also been known to reduce injury or death by nearly half in children and adults alike.
On the other hand, improper use or the absence of a proper child restraint causes more injuries and deaths in children. In the year 2015, 663 children under the age of 12 were killed in motor vehicle accidents, and in 2014 over 121,350 were injured.
Of those children who died in 2015, it was found that around 35% of them were not buckled, and on average 618,000 children ages 0-12 per year ride in vehicles unrestrained.
It is safe to say that the proper use of child car seats is the safest way to travel with your child in a motor vehicle, due to studies that show the statistics and physics of a car crash.
Your baby carrier should never be used to hold your child when riding in a motor vehicle, especially in the event of a crash.
After all, when you are advised not to jump around or exercise with a baby in the carrier, why would you wear it in a moving vehicle?
Questions or comments about baby carriers and cars? Let us know below so we can connect with you. And be sure to share this link with other parents who may be asking if it is alright to ride in a car with their baby in a carrier.