Forward-facing convertible seat. Rear-facing infant-safety seat. High-back booster seat. These are just a few of the many child-safety seats that a child will ride in during the first years of his or her life. Chances are that their car seat won’t be installed or used correctly.
Nearly 73 percent of child-safety seats aren’t installed properly or used correctly, according to Safe Kids USA, a nonprofit organization. It’s important for parents to get this right because when used correctly, child-safety seats reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration updated its car-seat recommendations earlier this year. The guidelines now recommend that children stay in their car seats longer. Here are the updated recommendations based on a child’s age:
Birth to 12 months old
• A child younger than 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.
• There are different types of rear-facing car seats. Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer time period.
1 to 3 years old
• Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. You can find this information in the car seat’s owner’s manual and on a sticker found on the side of the car seat. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness.
4 to 7 years old
• Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Be sure to use your top tether anchor when the car seat is forward-facing. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness (check the car seat’s manual for weight and height limits), it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the backseat.
8 to 12 years old
• Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: Your child should still ride in the backseat because it’s safer there.
Tips for Parents
• Read the manuals: Parents should read both their car’s owner’s manual as well as the car seat manual before installing a car seat.
• Quick test: After installing the car seat, test its fit by grabbing the seat at the belt path to see if you can move the car seat more than an inch from side to side. If it moves more than an inch, the car seat isn’t secure and needs to be reinstalled.
• More is just more: When installing a car seat, it’s safe to use either your car’s Latch anchors or seat belt to secure it. However, do not use the Latch system and seat belt together. This hasn’t been crash-tested, and there are concerns that it would put too much stress on the car seat in a crash.
• Ask for help: If you can’t get a secure fit or are unsure in any way about the car seat’s installation, find a Car Seat Check in your area.