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Child Car Seats

Overview

Infant and child car safety seats save lives. A child who is not in a car seat can be badly injured or killed during a crash or an abrupt stop. This can happen even at low speeds. A parent's arms are not strong enough to hold and protect a baby during a crash. Many children who are not restrained die because they are torn from an adult's arms during a crash.

For every ride in a car, make sure your child is securely strapped into a car seat. Make sure the car seat is properly installed and meets all current safety standards. Always read and follow the guidelines and instructions provided by the maker of your car seat. Review the website at www.iihs.org/topics/seat-belts/seat-belt-law-table to find your state's child car seat laws.

Car seat requirements

Infant and child car seats save lives. By law, children must be buckled up in a car seat that is made for their weight, height, and age. Go to www.iihs.org/topics/seat-belts/seat-belt-law-table to check your state's laws.

The following guidelines come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). footnote 1

Ages 0 to 12 months

Your child younger than age 1 should always ride in a car seat that faces the back of the car (called rear-facing). 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. They allow you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.

Ages 1 to 3 years

Keep your child rear-facing in a convertible or 3-in-1 car seat as long as you can. It's the best way to keep your child safe. Your child should remain rear-facing until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat's maker. As soon as your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a car seat that faces the front (called forward-facing) and that has a harness.

Ages 4 to 7 years

Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat's maker. As soon as your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, your child can travel in a booster seat. But make sure to keep your child in the back seat.

Ages 8 to 12 years

Keep your child in a booster seat until your child 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 back seat because it's safer there.

For maximum safety, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for car seat use. Cars manufactured since September 2002 are equipped with a standardized car safety seat attachment system. This feature allows parents to secure the car seat on a permanently installed hook.

Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians can help you install your car seat and position your child safely. Go to www.seatcheck.org to find help in your area. You can also call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 1-888-327-4236.

Proper positioning

  • The safest place for your baby or child is in the middle of the back seat in the correct car or booster seat.
  • Never place your child's car seat in the front seat of any vehicle.
  • Put your infant's car seat at an angle where their head does not flop forward.
  • If your child needs attention while you are driving, stop the car. Then take care of your child's needs. Don't let your child get out of their seat while the car is moving.

References

Citations

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Car seats and booster seats. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats. Accessed July 16, 2021.

Credits

Current as of: September 20, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics

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