Car safety seats play a vital role in helping to keep your child safe. When choosing the best car safety seat for your needs, always read the instructions from the manufacturer and the owner’s manual to your vehicle so you’ll be sure to properly install and use a car safety seat. Car safety seats don’t make good hand-me-downs, since the plastic shell and other parts can break and government safety standards change over time. It’s also important that you always wear your seat belt – it’s never too early to set a good example of car seat safety for your child. Here are some basics to consider about car seat safety.
Car Seat Safety for Infants
Until your baby is at least one year old and weighs at least 20 pounds/9 kilos, the infant must ride rear-facing in an infant-only car safety seat or one designed to convert to front-facing when the baby is bigger. A rear-facing car safety seat will best protect an infant’s back, neck and head in the event of a collision. (We’d all be better off if we could travel facing this way!) When shopping for a car safety seat, make sure it’s easy for you to install and use. Can you buckle it tightly in the back seat? Try fitting the harness straps snugly around the baby. Test a convertible car safety seat both rear-facing and front-facing. In a car or SUV with a front passenger air bag, your car safety seat must be in the back seat, to protect your baby in case of an accident that causes the air bag to inflate. If your baby is a preemie, check with your pediatrician: premature infants sometimes experience breathing problems in a semi-reclined position, and you may need to use a special car bed for a while.
Car Seat Safety for Toddlers
Once a child is old enough and weighs enough to ride forward-facing, you should still consider having him or her ride rear-facing, until the child has grown to the highest height or weight allowed by the car safety seat manufacturer. Your toddler can then ride in a forward-facing car safety seat with a snug harness to protect the upper body until she or he weighs about 40 pounds/18 kilos (usually about 4 years old). Follow instructions carefully to change a convertible car safety seat from rear-facing to forward-facing. If you’re buying a new toddler car safety seat, make sure you can easily adjust and lock the harness. Test the car safety seat in your vehicle to be certain it will fit comfortably and tightly in the back seat. Your vehicle should have a tether strap to firmly attach the forward-facing car safety seat to the back seat. If you have an older vehicle that doesn’t have a shoulder strap, check with the car safety seat manufacturer about getting a tether kit. Some vehicles now come with built-in forward-facing car safety seats; your owner’s manual will have instructions on how to use these seats.
Car Seat Safety for School-Aged Children
Seat belts are made for adults, not children. When children outgrow a forward-facing car safety seat – when they reach the top weight or height allowed for the seat or if their shoulders are above the top harness slots or their ears reach the top of the car safety seat – they should then sit in a booster seat that straps into the back seat of the vehicle, until they are big enough to use just the adult lap and shoulder belts (usually some time between 8-12 years old and about 80 pounds/36 kilos in weight and 4’9” in height). Booster seats come in both high-back and backless models and are designed so your car seat belts fit properly around the child. For effective car seat safety, booster seats must be used with a lap and shoulder belt; if you have an older vehicle with only lap belts (these are okay for most rear- and forward-facing car safety seats), see if you can get shoulder belts installed. Even after they’ve outgrown car safety seats and booster seats, it is safest for children to ride in the back seat until they’re about 13 years old.