Installing and Using Child Safety Seats and Booster Seats
Correct restraints for children riding
in motor vehicles depend on the child’s age and size. Restraints to keep a child safe
the car include:
Infant safety seats
Child safety seats
Child booster seats
Correctly used safety belts
The key to keeping your child safe is
to use an age-appropriate child restraint that is correctly installed and used.
Infant and child safety seats come in
many shapes and sizes. The best child safety seat for a family is the one that is
for the child’s age, weight, and size. It’s also one that’s easy for the parents or
caregivers to use, fits in the family vehicles’ seats, and works the vehicles’ seat
or lower anchor and tether system.
The American Academy of Pediatrics
(AAP) has advice for using child safety seats:
Babies and toddlers should ride
in a rear-facing car safety seat in the back seat, for as long as possible. That
means until they reach the top weight or height allowed by their seat. Check your
car safety seat instructions.
Don’t put a rear-facing car
safety seat in the front passenger seat of any vehicle that has a passenger-side
front air bag. This practice prevents the risk for death or serious injury from
impact of the air bag against the safety seat.
younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat.
Premature and small babies
should not be placed in car safety seats that have shields, abdominal pads, or arm
rests. These could hit a baby’s face and neck during an impact. Ask your child’s
healthcare provider if you have questions about the correct seat for your baby.
In rear-facing car safety seats
for babies, set shoulder straps in the lowest slots until the baby’s shoulders are
above the slots. The harness must be snug. Put the car safety seat’s retainer clip
the midpoint of the baby’s chest. Don’t put it on the abdomen or in the neck area.
Check your safety seat instructions.
Make sure the car safety seat is
at the correct angle so that the baby’s head does not fall forward. Wedge a firm
roll of cloth or blanket on either side of the baby to keep them secure. Check the
instructions from the maker of your child safety seat.
Convertible car seats can be
used rear-facing. They can be converted to forward-facing for older children when
they outgrow either the weight or height limit for rear-facing. Most convertible
seats have height and weight limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for
2 years or more. Check your car safety seat instructions.
Use a booster seat when the
child has outgrown a convertible safety seat or forward-facing seat, but is too small
to fit correctly in a vehicle safety belt.
Use a belt-positioning booster
seat that has a combination lap and shoulder belt. The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration advises against a booster seat that has a small shield instead
of a shoulder belt.
The infant safety seat
Infant safety seats are often small
and portable. They are for babies up to age 1 and weight 35 pounds. Infant seats are
rear-facing. They may come with a 3-point or a 5-point harness. Some infant seats
with detachable bases that can be left belted into the vehicle. This means you don’t
need to install the seat each time. Some bases also are adjustable to correctly recline
the baby. Some infant seats are rear-facing only. Others convert to a forward-facing
position when your child reaches a certain height or weight. Always check the car
instruction manual for how to correctly use the seat.
The child safety seat
Babies and toddlers should ride in
a rear-facing car safety seat for as long as possible. That means until they reach
top weight or height allowed by their seat. Child safety seats can be convertible
Convertible seats. Most convertible seats have height and weight limits
that will allow young children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more. Check your
car seat manual to know when you can switch the seat from rear-facing to
forward-facing. Check the car safety seat maker’s instructions for how to adjust
the shoulder straps and use seat belt correctly.
Forward-facing seats. These are for children who have outgrown the weight
or height limit for their rear-facing or convertible seat. These children should
use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible. This means up to
the weight or height limit set by the car seat maker.
The booster seat
When your child is taller or weighs
more than the limit for their forward-facing car seat, switch to a belt-positioning
booster seat. Booster seats help raise up your child so that the vehicle’s seat belts
Always put booster seats in the
back seat of the vehicle. There are two types of booster seats:
High-back booster. This is a booster seat that helps protect the head and
neck in back seats that don’t have head restraints. The vehicle’s lap and shoulder
belts are used to secure the child.
Backless booster. This is a booster seat that raises up the child up so
that the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts correctly restrain the child.
Checking your car seat
Some of the most common mistakes in
installing or using child safety seats include:
Safety belt doesn’t hold the
seat in tightly or is not in locked mode
Harness straps are not snug
or positioned correctly
Harness retainer clip is not
at armpit level
Locking clip is not used
Car seat was recalled and not
repaired. This includes booster seats.
Babies are placed rear-facing
in front of an active air bag
Children are turned
forward-facing before the height or weight limit listed by their car seat
Carefully read your vehicle owner’s
manual and the instructions that come with the child safety seat. Check that the seat
correctly installed. Use the seat correctly. Always keep the child’s safety seat
instruction manual in the car for easy reference.
Here are some questions to ask
Is your child riding in the
back seat? The back seat is the safest place in a crash.
Is your child facing the
correct way? Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat for
as long as possible. That means until they reach the highest weight or height
allowed by their seat.
Is the child safety seat held
tightly in place by the seat belt or lower anchor and tether system?
Does the harness buckle
snugly around your child?
Does your older child fit
correctly in the vehicle’s seat belts? The shoulder belt should rest over the
shoulder and across the chest, not the neck. The lap belt should fit low and snug
over the upper thighs, not the belly. The child should be tall enough to sit with
knees bent at the edge of the seat without slouching.
Replacing child safety seats and seat belts after a crash
Once a vehicle has been in a severe
crash, replace child safety seats and seat belts. They may have become stretched or
damaged. All child safety seats are replaced by insurance companies. Always check
your child safety seat maker for any questions about the safety of your child’s
When car seats are recalled
Sometimes child safety seats are
recalled for safety reasons. It’s important to register your car seat so you can be
if the seat is recalled. To check if your child safety seat has been recalled, call
seat’s maker or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety
Hotline at 888-327-4236. If the seat has been recalled, you will be told how to fix
or how to get parts to fix it.