Ensuring that your child is safely restrained when riding in a motor vehicle is a critical task for parents and those caring for children.
Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car safety seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half.
Infants and Toddlers: Rear-facing Car Seats
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants should ride rear-facing starting with their first ride home from the hospital. All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer.
Types of rear-facing car safety seats
There are 3 types of rear-facing car safety seats:
- Infant-only seats;
- Convertible seats; and
- 3-in-1 seats.
When children reach the highest weight or length allowed by the manufacturer of their infant-only seat, they should continue to ride rear-facing in a convertible seat or 3-in-1 seat.
Toddlers and Preschoolers: Forward-facing Car Seats
All children 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 years who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car safety seat, should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer.
It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to 4 years of age. If your child outgrows his seat before reaching 4 years of age, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.
School-aged Children: Booster Seats
Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing car safety seats.
All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age.
The owner’s manual that comes with your car safety seat will tell you the height and weight limits for the seat. As a general guideline, a child has outgrown his forward-facing seat when any one of the following is true:
- He reaches the top weight or height allowed for his seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and also included in the instruction booklet.)
- His shoulders are above the top harness slots.
- His ears have reached the top of the seat.
Older Children & Seat Belts
Seat belts are made for adults. Your child should stay in a booster seat until adult seat belts fit correctly (usually when the child reaches about 4 feet 9 inches in height and is between 8 and 12 years of age). When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use Lap and Shoulder Seat Belts for optimal protection.
Using a seat belt
An adult seat belt fits correctly when:
- The shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat.
- The lap belt is low and snug across the upper thighs, not the belly.
- Your child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with her knees bent without slouching and can stay in this position comfortably throughout the trip.
Other points to keep in mind when using seat belts include:
- Make sure your child does not tuck the shoulder belt under her arm or behind her back. This leaves the upper body unprotected, putting your child at risk of severe injury in a crash or with sudden braking.
- Never allow anyone to “share” seat belts. All passengers must have their own car safety seats or seat belts.