From the moment your new baby leaves the hospital, car seat safety becomes an important part of infancy and childhood. Living in a world with car seats, seat belts, and air bags has helped save thousands of lives. However, the best way to ensure your child is safe inside the car is to understand how and when to use the right car seat.
See the chart at the bottom of the page for more info.
Infant Car Seat Safety
Although each state has its own car seat laws, there are several key car seat regulations that all parents must abide by – countrywide. Without exception, all infants must ride in the back seat. The middle section of the seat is often the safest because it is away from side airbags and both doors. If you have side airbags, it is necessary to turn them off while the child is very young. Air bags can implode and cause more harm than good, due to excessive force.
Infants must also be placed in an approved car seat carrier that faces the rear of the car. Years of accident testing has proven this is the safest position for a baby to be in. Infant car seats can be found in large retailers like Walmart and Target, and almost anywhere baby items are sold. Popular and trustworthy brands include names like Graco, Evenflo, and Safety 1st.
Infant carriers come with a detachable base that can be left in the car. The car seat clicks into the base, making getting baby in and out of the car extremely easy. The base must be used at all times, in order to ensure proper safety. Additional bases can be purchased for alternate cars so that you will only need one carrier. Infant car seats come with a convenient carrying handle and are also often part of a stroller system.
If you are new to infant car seat buying, be sure to read all the enclosed instructions that come with the seat. This will help to make certain that the seat is being used correctly. These seats are not meant for uses outside of the car such as feeding and sleeping.
Before buying an infant car seat, do a little research on the models you are interested in. Important features include comfort padding for baby, lightweight materials, and adjustable five-point harness straps. You may also want to look for an infant car seat that grows with your baby in order to get the most use for your money. Baby carriers can often be used until the child reaches 35 to 40 lbs.
Remember that it is vital to read all of the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the seat. The enclosed guide will tell you everything about the carrier from putting it together, to the proper placement of baby for maximum comfort and safety.
Toddler Car Seat Safety
Once your baby has outgrown his or her infant carrier, it is time for a toddler car seat – also known as a convertible seat. Convertible seats can be placed either rear facing or forward facing, but must remain in the back seat of the car. Any child under the age of two should be placed in a rear facing car seat only. Once the toddler is two years of age, or older, the seat may be used in its forward position.
Convertible car seats are larger and bulkier than infant carriers are. They don’t require a base and can stay in the car when not in use. The average weight of a child that uses a rear facing convertible seat is 40 to 50 lbs. And like the infant carrier, these seats also come with a five-point harness belt for safety.
An average toddler past the age of two is considered safe in a forward facing convertible car seat. Thanks to the invention of “grow with me” car seats, you may be able to use the same one for a few years. You should always have the original manufacturer instructions handy. If you purchase an interchangeable car seat, you will need to refer to the guide because the seat belt and harness will need adjusting as your baby grows.
Most children use a forward facing car seat until they are of school age. All new car seats will include the recommended positioning based on a child’s height and weight. If your child’s head is taller than the headrest of the seat, and/or if the shoulders are above the harness slot, then you know it is time for a new car seat.
School Age Car Seat Safety
The next (and last) car seat you will need for your child is a booster seat. This is not needed until he or she is at least five or has outgrown the convertible seat. Booster seats come with either a back or are backless, but they don’t include any harness belts. The purpose of a booster seat is to raise the child up to the level of an adult inside the car so the traditional seat belt can be used. Although your child may be uncomfortable, both the lap and shoulder belt are required with the use of a booster seat. The average age a child outgrows the booster seat is 8 years old. However, it is necessary that you check with your state laws and know the seating rules for child passengers. This information can be found on your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.
Safercar.gov is also an excellent resource site for parents with children from newborns to teen drivers – check out the ‘Parents Central’ tab for all the latest car safety information.
Buying a Used Car Seat
Regardless as to which type of car seat your child needs, there are several essential things to know if you are considering buying a used seat.
· Be sure the seat comes with the original instructions
· Research the seat to make sure it has never been recalled
· Used car seats should always be newer than 5 years old
· There should never be missing or damaged parts
· Know who you are buying from, or at least know the car seat’s history
Buying a used car seat can save you money, but it may not be worth the risk unless you are certain that the seat is in excellent condition. You can check with your local fire station or police department to see if they do car seat checks. These agencies are always up to date on the latest car seat safety information and will be able to help you with any safety concerns.
Don’t Let Your Child Call “Shot Gun” Just Yet…
Although you may not realize it, even after your child outgrows the use of a car seat, he or she should remain in the back seat of the car. Again, state laws differ, but child safety experts recommend that children are safest in the back seat until the age of 12. This is due to a concern with the intense power of front air bags.
If your state allows a young child to ride in the front seat under the age of 12, it may recommend that the passenger’s air bag be turned off while the child is in the front. Turning the air bag on and off for different passengers may be hard to keep up with and you don’t want to put other passengers safety in jeopardy. It is in the best interest for everyone to have your precious cargo remain in the back seat for as long as possible.