How to Choose the Right Car Seat for Your Child

New PSA urges parents to check for "the right seat"

The right seat ad campaign
Before.

You would do anything to ensure the safety of your child. You choose healthy foods. You bundle them up when it is cold outside. When they are sick or injured, you take them to the doctor. But what about something you probably do nearly every single day? The simple act of taking your child for a ride in your vehicle could prove to be tragic if your child's car seat or booster seat isn't correct. Is the car seat your chose for your preschooler still the right fit?

Is it positioned correctly in your car? Is your child restrained correctly? 

You probably gave a lot of thought you the car seat you chose for your child when you purchased it, but now, potentially years later, is it still safe? Are you using it correctly? Unfortunately, maybe not. 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nearly half of car seats in the United States are used incorrectly, whether they are positioned improperly, are in the wrong spot in the car, or are the wrong size for the child that is riding in it. What's more is that 1 in 3 children who are killed in car crashes weren't in any kind of restraint. That's a scary figure, when you consider that the NHTSA reports that every 33 seconds a child under 13 is involved in a car crash

A new public service announcement campaign from the Ad Council and the NHTSA is urging parents to take a second look in the back seat of their car.

If you have a car seat already, they want you to make sure the one that is being used is the right seat. If you are currently car or booster seat shopping, they want you to make sure that they one you choose is the right kind for your child.

"Life can change in an instant. We want parents and caregivers to prepare for the unexpected, rather than face their worst nightmare," said Dr. Mark Rosekind, NHTSA administrator.

  "Buckling up a child correctly and in the right seat is the best protection any parent can do to see their child walk away unharmed from a car crash."

Find the Right Seat - Right Now!

The joint initiative, "Find the Right Seat" features a tagline, "Don't Think You Know. Know You Know," works to remind parents that even though they are fairly positive that the car seat or the booster seat that their child is riding in is the correct one, it is too late to change once they start the physical act of driving around in a car.

The PSAs also aim to educate parents to double check that when they are buying a car seat or booster seat that it is the right age and size for their child, and also to remind those who may not think a car seat or booster seat is needed, that they can and do save lives in the event of a car crash. 

"The right car seat can keep kids safe, and that's what we all want for our children," said Ad Council President and CEO, Lisa Sherman. "It's not enough for parents to think they know which car seat is right for their child; they need to know for sure."

If you are uncertain if the car seat or booster seat that your child is currently riding in is the right fit, or if you are currently in the market for a car seat, SafeCar.gov has a host of resources for you to take a look at. There are sections on:

  • how to choose a car or booster seat, that include information on the various car seat types, ease-of-use-ratings on the different types of car seats, age and size recommendations, and a find a car seat tool that lets you compare different makes and models.
  • tips on how to correctly install your car or booster seat
  • links on where to register your car seat or booster seat and how to sign up for recall notices
  • links to sign up for separate recall notices directly from the NHTSA

In addition, check out these car seat and booster safety tips direct from the NHTSA: 

  • find a car seat that fits your child. As children grow, how they fit in their car seat will change. Make sure the car seat you purchase is designed to fit your child’s current size and age.
  • not all car seats fit in all vehicles so test the car seat you plan to buy to make sure it fits correctly in your vehicle.
  • before installing your car seat in your vehicle and putting your child in the car seat, read the manufacturer’s instructions so you know how your car seat works.
  • all-in-one car seats offer you the advantage of using the same seat for the following positions: rear-facing, forward-facing with harness, then booster. These seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.

When Should I Switch My Child From a Car Seat to a Booster Seat?

For many parents, knowing when to switch their child from a car seat to a booster seat raises a lot of questions. There are a lot of factors involved, including age and weight. The general rule of thumb is to consider two things: once your child 4 years old and weighs 40 pounds or more; or your child is 4 years old and is too tall for the seat he or she is currently riding in. 

In April 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement to parents that said young children "should stay in a rear-facing seat until they turn 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their particular seat." For older children, the guidelines were that children between 8 and 12 who are less than 4 feet, 9 inches tall "should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat

“Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they’re necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage,” said Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and accompanying technical report. For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly.”

The AAP also said that "children should transition from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness until they reach the maximum weight or height for that seat. Then a booster will make sure the vehicle’s lap-and-shoulder belt fit properly.

"The shoulder belt should lie across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not near the neck or face. The lap belt should fit low and snug on the hips and upper thighs, not across the belly. Most children will need a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old."

If you aren't sure, ask an expert, either in the store you are buying from, or  at a police station. Many local precincts often have car seat safety days where their certified experts do a check. While buying a new booster seat find out of your child can test the seat in the store (some may even permit you to bring the floor model to your car). This way you can see first-hand before you buy how comfortable your child is with all the various restraints in place.

And always make sure that any child under the age of 13 sits in the back seat of the car, even if they are no longer riding in a car or booster seat. 

The Campaign

The Ad Council started an extensive child passenger safety campaign in 2012. This new initiative is an extension of that, and will appear nationwide on tv and radio, as well as in print and online media outlets. The Ad Council said that they have received over $180 million in donated air space and time. 

"This campaign is about life, about dreams. It is a plea to parents and caregivers in the present in order to ensure our children's future. Although the statistics about the deaths and injuries caused by crashes are scary, we don't want to scare parents, we want to inspire them," said Elias Weinstock, chief creative officer at Casanova Tendril USA, the agency who created the PSAs free of charge. 

To see the interactive PSAs, visit:

For more information on the campaign and to learn how to determine if you child is in the right car or booster seat, visit SaferCar.gov/TheRightSeat or SaferCar.gov/protegidos or join NHTSA's online communities on Facebook and Twitter. For those who prefer to read the message in Spanish, visit SaferCar.gov/protegidos. And click here for a list of AAP-approved car and booster seats.

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