It's easy to get distracted in the last-minute packing and rush to beat holiday traffic. If you're planning to go on a road trip this holiday season, make sure your little ones have a safe vacation.

The number of car accidents goes up during the holidays. And when an accident occurs, children are most at risk, which is why making sure your child is properly secured should be a chief concern.

Motor vehicle crashes are the biggest killer of children ages 1-12 in California.

We know these risks exist, yet we don't always follow the car seat guidelines we knew when our babies were born. Car seats are specially designed to absorb the high impact of a collision, but you need the right fit. The current California Highway Patrol regulations regarding child passengers include:

  • Children younger than 8 years old must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat.

  • Children younger than 8 years old who are 4 feet, 9 inches or taller may be secured by a safety belt in the back seat.

  • Children who are 8 years old and older shall be properly secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system or safety belt.

  • Passengers who are 16 years old and older are subject to California's mandatory seat belt law.

    Beyond that:

    Children younger than 1 year old should always ride in the back seat in a rear-facing car seat. Once a child reaches 1 year and 20 pounds, a forward-facing car seat can be used -- again in the back seat.

    When a child outgrows their child seat, they should use a booster seat until they are 8 years old or at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Only after that can they ride in the front seat, and even then the back is always safer.

    These common mistakes often lead to injury:

  • Seat too loose: If you can move the car seat more than an inch, it's too loose. Put some pressure on the seat and tighten it as much as possible.

  • Harness too loose: If you can put a finger under the harness, it's too loose. Make sure the harness is a snug fit.

  • Bad angle: If an infant is sitting too upright, his or her airway could become obstructed. Use a rolled-up towel under the car seat to prop it up to a 45-degree angle, if needed.

  • No boost: Children between 40 and 80 pounds and less than 4 feet, 9 inches tall must ride in a booster seat. Without a booster seat, seat belts designed for adults can cause internal injury or allow a child to come out of the seat.

  • Additionally: Do not pack hard toys or items in the cabin of your vehicle. During an accident or sudden stop these items could turn into dangerous flying objects.

    If you haven't had a recent inspection of your car seat, call a local fire or police station to have it checked. You can also call John Muir Health at 925-941-7900.

    Above all, drive safe. This time of year, wet roads are slick and stress is high. Even if you're not traveling with children, someone around you could be. Happy and safe holidays!

    Denise Milosevich works in the Community Wellness and Prevention Program of Contra Costa Health Services. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at theairdoctor@gmail.com For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.