Last week in the office I got multiple questions regarding car seats. When should I face him forward? How old does she have to be to sit in the front seat? How long does she stay in a booster seat? It can be quite confusing to navigate all the rules, so let’s clear it up a bit.
Motor vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of death for children 4 years and up. Using the proper car seat in the proper position is paramount in keeping your children safe.
A complete guide to car seat safety can be found here: Healthychildren.org – car seat information for families. . The guide goes through all the rules and recommendations.
The following is a concise summary of the current recommendations:
Infants and Toddlers
Perhaps the most significant recommendation and biggest change in recent years is that infants are to remain rear-facing up to the age of 2 years, and beyond that for as long as possible. A 2007 study found that children under 2 years old are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured when rear-facing in their car seats. Rear-facing seats support the head and neck and disperse the force of impact across the whole body, rather than a smaller area against the belts if forward-facing. Many parents are concerned that as their child becomes longer, his/her legs are forced up the back of the car’s seat. While this may be slightly uncomfortable, it is not harmful to the child, and in an accident, a minor injury to the leg is far less severe than a head or neck injury.
Children 2 years and older should be forward-facing in a convertible car seat with a harness for as long as possible. The car seat manufacturer will have guidelines for the height and weight requirements. When the child has outgrown this seat, he should be transferred to a belt-positioning booster seat. Typically this should be done after the age of 4, and between 40 and 65 pounds. If your child outgrows her seat before the age of 4, consider getting a larger seat that allows for taller or heavier children.
When your child has outgrown the forward-facing 5 point harness seat and is at least 4 years old, switch him or her to a booster seat. Please remember that the harness car seats are safer than the boosters, so your child should stay in his or hers as long as possible. Booster seats should always be used with the lap and shoulder belt. The shoulder strap should lie comfortably across the chest and shoulder and the lap belt should be low on the hips/thighs, not at the belly. If this is not the case, continue using your child’s car seat until he or she is bigger.
Children should stay in a booster seat until they are big enough for the regular car seat. This is when they are at least 4 foot 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old. They should be able to sit up straight against the back of the car’s seat with their knees bent comfortably over the seat and the seat belt across the proper body parts to ride without a booster. It is recommended that children remain restrained in the back seat until 13 years of age.
Please note that with each graduating step through the different seats and positions offers less protection for your child, so make your decision safely and carefully.
If you have questions or need help installing your car safety seat, find a certified CPS technician. Lists of certified CPS technicians and child seat fitting stations are available on the following Web sites:
NHTSA (or call NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888/327-4236)
SeatCheck (or call 866/SEATCHECK [866/732-8243])
National Child Passenger Safety Certified Technicians (or call 877/366-8154) This site provides information in Spanish and also provides a list of CPS technicians with enhanced training in protection of children with special needs.