When car seats were first created, they were designed more to keep children from crawling around the car than for safety. Fortunately, car seats have come a long way since those early days. Today's models cut the likelihood of a fatality resulting from a crash in half when used properly, saving hundreds of lives every year in the process [source: CDC]. So even if you don't live in one of the dozens of states that hand out heavy fines for car seat violations, you should always strap your child into a car or booster seat no matter how short the trip.
Of course, you'll also need to make sure you're using the right type of car or booster seat for your child and that you're using it properly. A study of 1,000 Canadian drivers found that up to 80 percent of parents use their car seats incorrectly, placing children in the wrong type of seat for their age, not tightening the straps properly and making a number of other potentially dangerous mistakes [source: CBC News]. In addition to following the car seat manufacturer's instructions, make sure to remember the general guidelines for keeping your kids safe in the car. For instance, infants should be placed in rear-facing car seats while toddlers should ride in forward-facing seats, and whenever possible, children should always ride in the rear seat of the vehicle.