A Guide to Car Seat Safety

Your five-year-old’s booster seat is in the other car, and you really need to run to the store before dinner. It’s a short drive anyway, and you’ll just put your daughter in the car without her booster this once.

Your baby really hates the rear-facing car seat. He’d probably cry less if you just turn it around. He’s over a year, it should be fine.

Both scenarios – and many more just like them – are common. But all of them could be deadly. It’s estimated that kids’ car seats can reduce the chances of fatal injury by 54 percent for toddlers aged one to four. But they can only do so if they’re properly installed – and if you’re using them. Here’s what you need to know about car seats and keeping your kids safe when you’re driving.

General Car Seat Safety

  • Choose a car seat designed for your child’s age, height and weight. There are hundreds of car seats available on the market, so do your research. Visit a baby gear retailer like Babies R Us or Target, or look online for recommendations and reviews. Keep in mind that you’ll need a car seat that will also fit your car. Most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system, which makes it easy to snap car seats in and out without using the seatbelt.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructors thoroughly to be sure you’re installing the car seat correctly. Double check height and weight limits, and make sure you’re buckling your child in properly too. In five-point harness seats, the harness should be threaded through the slots at the same height as your child’s shoulders, or slightly below. The chest clip should be at chest/armpit height, and the harness should be snug.
  • Use the car seat every time you drive, and keep your child in a car seat or booster until she outgrows the manufacturer’s height and weight limits.


Age Guidelines

Newborns up to babies one year old should always be in a rear-facing car seat. There are infant-only seats available, as well as convertible and all-in-one options with higher height and weight limits so you can keep your child rear-facing longer. It’s recommended that children sit rear-faced as long as possible, up to three years if you can swing it.

If you have an escape artist on your hands, consider investing in a seat-belt monitoring safety system. These wireless alert systems are designed to notify you if your child unbuckles his seat belt while you’re driving.

Once your child has outgrown the height and weight limits of a car seat, you can bump up to a booster seat. The back seat is the safest place for kids, so keep that booster in the back. You should use the booster seat until your child is big enough for the seat belt to fit properly. And whether your child is in a booster or on the actual car seat, be sure the seat belt fits properly. The lap belt should be snug across the upper thighs – not your child’s stomach. The shoulder belt should lie across the shoulder and chest without crossing the neck or face. Make sure to remind your child about proper seat belt use. Don’t let kids move the shoulder belt behind their backs or under their arms, which provides no protection. Even when he’s old enough for just the seat belt, remember that your child will be safest if he rides in the back.