Car Seat Safety Best Practices

Car Seat Safety Basics

An infant being buckled into a car seat
Are you following all of the car seat best practices to help make sure that your kids ride safe?. Photo by Brian McEntire

Car seat safety recommendations and car seat models have changed over the years, which makes it important for parents to keep up with all of the latest information on car seats to help keep their kids as safe as possible when riding in the car. For example, the latest car seat guidelines now recommend that toddlers continue to ride rear-facing and that preschoolers continue to ride in forward-facing car seats with harness straps much longer than they used to.

Fortunately, car seat models are now available with higher weight and height limits to help you meet these new recommendations. These include rear-facing, infant-only seats with a 30- to 35-pound weight limit, as well as forward-facing seats with 5-point harness straps that have a 65- to 80-pound weight limit.

Car Seat Best Practices

To keep your child safe, in addition to choosing the right type and model of car seat, it is important that you use your car seat correctly by following these car seat best practices:

Register your car seat so that you will be notified of any car seat recalls.

Use your car seat in the correct position, in the back seat:

  • rear-facing until your infant is two years old or outgrows the limits of your rear-facing car seat, although since it is thought to be safest to continue rear-facing until age two years, consider moving to a rear-facing convertible car seat with high weight and height limits if you have a larger infant or toddler that outgrows his car seat too early
  • forward-facing in a five-point harness until your child outgrows his car seat, remembering that it is likely best to ride in a harnessed seat as long as possible, so choose a car seat with a harness that has higher weight and height limits
  • in a booster seat until he is ready for seat belts (when he is 4 feet, 9 inches tall, between 8 and 12 years old)

    Avoid common car seat mistakes, such as putting harness straps or a harness chest clip in the wrong position; not using the LATCH system correctly; taking a child out of his booster seat and putting him into regular seat belts before he is ready; or letting kids ride in the front seat before they are old enough.

    Avoid reusing a car seat after an accident, especially a moderate or severe accident.

    Follow your state car seat laws; where they are lacking (some states say it is OK to take kids out of a car seat at age 4 or 5, for example), follow the recommendations of the AAP and keep your kids in a booster seat until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

    Do some research to find the right car seat for your child with special needs.

    Avoid having your child wear heavy clothing, like a winter coat, that may interfere with proper harnessing.

    Car Seat Inspections

    It is estimated that about 80% of car seats are misused, either because a child is in the wrong seat, the seat is installed wrong, or the child is not placed in the seat correctly.

    Are you using your car seat correctly?

    If you're not sure, consider visiting a Child Passenger Safety Inspection Station, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration describes as 'a place where parents and caregivers can learn how to safely transport children by using the appropriate child safety seat or safety belt correctly; a one-on-one tutorial instruction provided by certified CPS technicians on the proper use and installation of child restraints.'

    Visiting an inspection station can also help to make sure you are keeping up with the latest car seat guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the NHTSA.

    Sources:

    American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Child Passenger Safety. Pediatrics 2011;127:788-793.

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