Car Seats: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Child Safe

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, Baby Essentials, Gear Guides: Babies

car seats

Check your owner's manual before purchasing a car seat. Credit: Getty Images

When it comes to choosing car seats for your kids, start your research in the garage.

The first thing parents should do is consult their car's owner's manual and examine the contour of their backseat, says Stephanie M. Tombrello, executive director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.

The manual will offer information on how and where to install the seat in the car, she says, adding that the angle and depth of the back seat are especially important when choosing infant seats because babies need to be riding at a particular angle.

Although many states only require parents to keep a child in a rear-facing seat until the child is 1 year old and weighs 20 pounds, safety experts urge parents to keep children rear facing until they are at least 2.

"Riding rear facing is five times safer than forward facing," Tombrello says.

Car seat manufacturers are making it possible to follow the recommendation by making rear-facing seats that can accommodate children up to 45 pounds, she says.

They also are making the seats deeper to give children more leg room, adds Lorrie Walker, training manager and technical adviser for Safe Kids Worldwide.

The higher weight limits mean children can use harness-style car seats longer before moving into a booster.

State laws vary about when children can start riding in booster seats, but Walker tells parents to keep their children in them as long as possible. Her organization recommends children use booster seats until they weigh between 80 and 100 pounds and are about 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Don't let your children or other parents pressure you into relaxing your car seat standards, Walker says. Her organization also recommends children ride in the back seat of a vehicle until they are at least 13 years old.

"You want your child who's 7 to be just as safe as when he was a newborn," Walker says.

Tips for choosing and using car seats:

  • Look for car seats with straps that are easy to tighten and adjust.
  • Always read the instruction manual of a car seat while installing it.
  • Do not allow the car seat straps to sag. You should not be able to pinch the fabric between your fingers.
  • Car seats are installed tightly enough when you cannot move them more than an inch to either side.
  • If you have two children in car seats, place a rear-facing car seat on the side and a booster or forward-facing seat in the middle.
  • Replace car seats after a crash. (Many car insurance companies will pay for replacement seats after an accident.)
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.