Safety car Seats: A Guide for Families

One of the most important tasks we have as parents is to keep our children safe when travelling in a vehicle.

Every year thousands of children are killed or injured in car crashes. Proper use of car seats helps keep children safe. But since there are so many different seats available on the market, for many parents this is an overwhelming topic. If you are expecting a child, consider working with a certified passenger safety technician (CPST or CPS technician) before your baby is born, to make sure you get safely home from the hospital…

The type of seat your child needs depends on many factors, including your child’s age and size and developmental needs. Read on to learn more from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about choosing the right car seat for your child.

Overview of types of car safety seats

The “Types of Car Safety Seats” chart is a quick guide to begin your search. It is important that you continue to do your research to obtain information on each seat you use.

Types of car safety seats
age groupSeat typeGeneral guidelines
Babies and toddlersRear-facing only Rear-Facing ConvertiblesAll infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing car seats until they have reached the maximum weight or height allowed by the manufacturer. Most convertible seats allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.
Toddlers and PreschoolersForward-facing convertibles Forward-facing with harnessChildren who exceed the height and weight limit for the rear-facing seat should use forward-facing car seats with a harness for as long as possible until they reach the limit determined by the manufacturer. Many of these seats can be used by children up to 65 pounds or more (29.4 kg). 
School-age childrenBooster seatAll children whose height or weight exceeds the limit for their forward-facing seats should ride in booster seats until the seat belt fits snugly, which is generally the case when the child is 4 feet, 9 inches tall (~ 1, 40 m), between 8 and 12 years old. All children under the age of 13 must ride in the back seat.
Older childrenSeat beltsWhen children reach the age and size necessary to wear a seat belt correctly, they should wear lap and shoulder belts for optimal protection. All children under the age of 13 must ride in the back seat.

Installation Information: Seat Belts and LATCH System

Car safety seats can be installed with the vehicle’s seat belt or its LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tether Straps for Children). LATCH is a car safety seat attachment system. 
place of the seat belt to install the seat, and many parents find them easier to use in some cars. 

how to install forward facing car seat with LATCH?

The top strap enhances the safety provided by the seat and is important to use for all forward-facing seats, even those installed with the car seat belt. While the seat belt and LATCH systems are just as safe, caregivers may prefer one system or the other.
Note that only one system should be used unless the car seat manufacturer and the vehicle manufacturer say it is appropriate to use both systems at the same time.

Vehicles with the LATCH system have lower anchors in the rear seat, at the junction between the cushions. Tether straps are behind the seat, either on the panel behind the seat (on sedans) or on the seatback, roof, or floor (on most pickups, SUVs, five-door cars and pick-up trucks). All forward-facing car seats have strap attachments that fit these anchors. Almost all passenger vehicles and all car seats manufactured after September 1, 2002, are equipped to use LATCH. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for more information on the maximum weight allowed for your child to use the top strap.

All lower anchors are rated for a maximum weight of 65 pounds (total weight includes car seat and child). Parents should review the car safety seat manufacturer’s recommendations for the maximum weight a child must have to use the lower anchors. New car safety seats have the maximum weight printed on their label.

Note: Seat belts, if you install a car seat using your vehicle’s seat belt, you must ensure that the belt locks for a proper fit. In most newer cars, you can lock the seat belt by pulling it all the way and then allowing it to retract to keep it snug around the car seat. Additionally, many car safety seats have built-in belt locks to lock the belt independently, without having to also lock the seat belt. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for details on how your seat belt locks.

The middle back seat: the safest place for them to ride
all children under 13 years of age in the back seat. If possible, it is best to ride in the middle of the back seat. However, it is sometimes difficult to install a firm car seat in the middle of the vehicle seat that is narrow or uneven. Also, many vehicles do not have lower anchors to place the seat in the middle of the rear seat. 

The safest thing to do is to place the car seat in a position where you can install it securely with the lower anchor system or the seat belt; in some cases, this could be on both sides of the rear seat, rather than in the middle. Child passenger safety technician

Rear-Facing Infant and Toddler Seats

The AAP recommends that all babies travel rear-facing from their first trip home from the hospital. All infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing seats until they have reached the maximum height or weight allowed by the manufacturer of their car safety seat. 

Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more. When babies grow so large that they no longer fit in a
rear-facing seat only, a convertible seat needs to be installed. All parents can benefit from getting help from a CPST to make sure the seat is installed correctly.

Rear-facing seat types:

There are three types of rear-facing seats available: rear-facing only, convertible and all in one. When children reach the maximum weight or height allowed by the manufacturer for their rear-facing seat only, they should continue to ride rear-facing in a convertible or all-in-one seat.

Rear-facing seats only

  • They are used for babies up to 22 to 35 pounds (9.9 to 15.8 kg) and 26 to 35 inches (66 to 88 cm), depending on the model.
  • They are small and have handles for carrying them.
  • They generally come with a base that can be left in the car. The seat slides into and out of the base, so it doesn’t need to be installed every time you use it. Parents can purchase more than one base to attach to other vehicles.
  • They should only be used for travel (not for sleeping, eating or for any other use outside the vehicle).

Convertible seats (used rear-facing)

  • They can be used rear-facing and can later be “converted” to forward-facing seats for older children when they exceed the weight, height, or both limits for rear-facing. This means that your child can use the seat longer. However, they take up more space than infant seats, do not include carry handles or separate bases, and are designed to stay in the car.
  • Many have higher weight (up to 40 to 50 pounds) and height limits than rear-facing seats only, making them an ideal choice for larger babies and young children.
  • They have a 5-point harness that is attached to the shoulders, hips, and between the legs.
  • They should only be used for travel (not for sleeping, eating or for any other use outside the vehicle).

All-in-one seats (used rear-facing)

  • They can be used rear-facing, forward-facing, or as lifters for belt positioning. This means that your child can use the seat longer as he grows.
  • They are generally larger, so it is important to ensure that they enter the vehicle facing the rear.
  • They don’t have the convenience of a carry handle or separate base; however, they may have higher limits for rear-facing weight (up to 40 or 50 pounds) and height than rear-facing seats only, making them ideal for larger babies and young children.

Installation tips for rear-facing seats:

how to install rear facing car seat?

Always read the vehicle owner’s manual and the car safety seat manual before installing the seat.

When using a rear-facing seat, remember the following tips:

  • Place the harnesses of your rear-facing seat in the slots located at or below your baby’s shoulders.
  • Make sure that the harness is snug (that you cannot pinch any slack between your fingers when testing the harness straps on the baby’s shoulders), and that the chest clip is positioned in the center of the chest, at the level of the your child’s armpits.
  • Make sure the car seat is installed securely with lower anchors or a locked seat belt. If you can move the seat via the belt path more than one inch from side to side or front to back, it is not tight enough.
  • Never place a rear-facing seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has an active airbag in the passenger seat.
    If the air bag were to inflate, it would hit the back of the car seat, right where your baby’s head is, and could result in serious injury or death.
  • If you are using a convertible or all-in-one seat in the rear-facing position, make sure the seat belt or lower anchor tie-down is routed in the correct belt path. Consult the car safety seat instructions for added safety.
  • Make sure the seat is at the right angle so your baby’s head doesn’t roll forward. See the instructions for the correct angle for your seat and how to adjust the angle if necessary. All rear-facing seats have built-in angle adjusters or indicators.
  • Check the car safety seat instructions and the vehicle owner’s manual to find out if the car safety seat can touch the back of the vehicle seat in front of it.
  • Still having problems? Contact a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) in your area who can help you. If you need help with installation, see the section at the end of this publication for information on how to locate a CPST.

Common questions

What happens if my baby’s feet touch the back of the vehicle seat?

  • This is something that parents often worry about, but it shouldn’t. Children can easily bend their legs and will be comfortable in a rear-facing seat. Leg injuries are very rare in rear-facing children.

What do I do if my baby slides down or to the side in the car seat?

  • You can try placing small rolled blankets on both sides of your baby. Many manufacturers allow a tightly rolled diaper or cloth (small piece of cloth) to be placed between the crotch strap and your baby if necessary to prevent it from slipping. Do not put padding under or behind your baby or use car seat attachments unless they are supplied with or made specifically for that seat.

Why should I dress my baby in thinner layers of clothing before putting him in a car seat?

  • Bulky garments, such as winter coats and snow suits, can collapse in an accident and leave the straps too loose to restrain your child, with an increased risk of injury. Ideally, you should dress your baby in thinner layers of clothing and cover or tuck him in with a coat or blanket over the buckled harness straps if necessary. See: AAP Tips for Safe Car Seat Use in Winter.  

Do premature babies need a special car seat?

  • A car seat must be approved for the weight of an infant. Very young babies who can sit safely in a semi-reclined position generally fit best in rear-facing seats only. Premature babies should be tested while they are in the hospital to make sure they can sit safely in a semi-reclined position. 
  • Babies who need to lie down during travel should travel in a car bed that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. They should be tested while in the hospital to make sure they can lie down safely. safe in the car bed.

Forward-facing seats for toddlers and preschoolers

Always read the vehicle owner’s manual and the car safety seat manual before installing the seat. Any child who has exceeded the weight limit for their rear-facing car seat or the height limit for their convertible seat should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the maximum weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of your car safety seat. 

Ideally, children should ride in harness seats for as long as possible, at least up to 4 years of age. If your child is larger than a seat before age 4, consider using a seat with a harness approved for greater weights and heights.

Types of fasteners for forward-facing seats

Four types of restraints can be used for vehicle safety in forward-facing seats:

  • Convertible Seats – Seats that can convert from rear-facing to forward-facing. Among these are the all-in-one seats.
  • Harness Seat Combination Seat can be used forward-facing with a harness for children weighing up to 40 to 65 pounds (depending on model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 100 to 120 pounds, depending on model).
  • Built-in Seats – Some vehicles have built-in forward-facing seats. Height and weight limits vary. However, do not use built-in seats until your child is at least 2 years old. Read your vehicle’s owner’s manual for details on how to use these seats.
  • Travel Vests – Can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and can be an alternative to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful when a vehicle has seat belts only for the lap in the back seat, for children with special needs or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by the car safety seats. These vests may require a top lanyard.

Installation tips for forward-facing seats:

Always read the vehicle owner’s manual and the car safety seat manual before installing the seat. 

It is important that the car seat is securely installed in the vehicle and that the harness fits snugly on your child. 

To change a convertible or all-in-one seat from rear-facing to forward-facing:

  • Move the shoulder straps to the slits that are located at or above your child’s shoulders. On some convertible seats, the upper harness slits must be used when facing forward. Check the instructions supplied with the seat for added safety to make sure you are fitting the shoulder straps correctly.
  • You may need to adjust the recline angle of the seat so that it is more upright in your car. See instructions for safety.
  • If you use a seat belt, make sure it runs in the forward-facing belt path (follow the instructions for the car seat) and that the seat belt is locked and tight. Many car safety seats have built-in locks to also lock the seat belt. If your seat has one, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to use it.
  • If you are using the lower anchors, make sure the weight of the child plus the weight of the seat does not exceed 65 pounds. Most seats currently indicate in the manual and on the stickers on the sides the maximum weight of the child to use the anchors. If the child is too heavy, caregivers should wear a seat belt for installation. 
  • Whenever you can, use the leash. This strap attaches to the top of a car safety seat and holds the seat secure by connecting to an anchor point in your vehicle (often located on the back of the seat or on the rear shelf, see your owner’s manual your vehicle to find out where the tether straps are on your vehicle). 
  • The straps provide important additional protection as they keep the car seat from moving your child’s head too far forward in a crash or sudden stop. Since September 2000, all new cars, minivans and trucks are required to have tether straps. Forward-facing seats come with tether straps. Until your child has reached the upper weight limit for the tether anchor, they will need to use the leash. See the car safety seat instructions and the car owner’s manual for information on the maximum weight limit and tether locations.

Common question

What if I am carrying more children than can be safely buckled up in the back seat?

  • This is best avoided, especially if your vehicle has a front seat airbag . All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. If absolutely necessary, the best option for riding in the front seat is to transport the child in a forward-facing seat with a harness. Make sure the vehicle seat is as far away from the dash (and air bag) as possible.

Booster seats for school children:

Booster seats are for older children who are too big to ride in their forward-facing seats. All children whose weight or height exceeds the limit for their forward-facing seats should use a belt-tight booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, which usually happens when the child reaches 4 feet 9 inches. tall, between 8 and 12 years old. 

Most children will not fit in almost any of the vehicle’s seat belts without a booster seat until they are 10 or 12 years old. All children under the age of 13 must ride in the back seat. The instructions that come with your car safety seat will tell you the height and weight limits for the seat. As a general guideline,

  • You reach the maximum weight or height allowed for your harness seat (These limits are explained on the seat and are also included in the instruction booklet).
  • Your shoulders are above the upper slits of the harness.
  • The tops of the ears are level with the top of the seat.

Types of lift chairs:

There are two types of lift chairs available, high back and backless. These are not supplied with harness straps but are used with your vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belts, just like when adults ride. They are designed to lift a child so that the lap/shoulder belt fits snugly over the strongest parts of the child’s body.

Most booster seats are not secured to the vehicle with a belt or lower anchor, but simply rest on the car seat and stay in place after the seat belt is fastened on a child. However, some models of booster seats can be secured to the vehicle seat and secured using the lower anchors or the upper strap. (Very few vehicles manufactured today come with built-in booster seats.)  

Tips for installing lift chairs:

When using a booster chair, always read the vehicle owner’s manual and the car safety seat manual before installing the seat. Booster seats often have a plastic clip or guide to properly position the car’s lap and shoulder seat belt. See the instruction manual supplied with the stairlift for how to use the clip or guide. Booster chairs must be used with lap and shoulder belts. When using a stairlift, make sure that:

  • The lap belt is low and tight against your child’s upper thighs.
  • The shoulder belt goes across the middle of your child’s chest and shoulder, not across the neck.

If your stairlift has lower anchors or upper strap attachments, check the manual for installation instructions.

Common questions about lift chairs:

What if my car only has lap belts in the back seat?

  • Lap belts work well with rear-facing only, convertible, and forward-facing seats, but can never be used with a booster seat. If your car only has lap belts, use a forward-facing seat that has a harness and higher weight limits. It could also:
    • Check if shoulder belts can be installed in your car.
    • Wear a travel vest (see manufacturer’s instructions on lap belt use only and lap and shoulder belt use).
    • Consider purchasing another car with lap and shoulder belts in the back seat.

What is the difference between high-back and no-back booster chairs?

  • Both types of booster seats are designed to lift your child so that seat belts hold them properly, and both reduce the risk of injury to your child in a crash. High-back booster chairs should be used in vehicles that do not have head restraints or that have low seat backs. 
  • Many seats that look like high-back booster chairs are actually combination seats that are supplied with harnesses that can be used for younger children and later removed for older children. Backless booster seats are often cheaper and easier to move from vehicle to vehicle. Backless booster seats can be safely used in vehicles with head restraints and high backs on the seats.

Seat belts for children

Seat belts are made for adults. Children should remain in a booster chair until properly secured by the adult seat belt, usually when they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old. 

Most children will not fit in a seat belt on their own until they are 10 to 12 years old. When children are old and large enough to use vehicle seat belts alone, they should always wear lap and shoulder belts for the best protection. All children under the age of 13 must ride in the back seat.

Use of seat belt

The adult seat belt fits well when:

  •  The shoulder belt rests on the middle of the chest and shoulder, not on the neck or throat.
  •  The lap belt is low and tight against the upper thighs, not the stomach.
  • Your child is tall enough to sit against the back of the seat with his knees comfortably bent over the edge of the seat without sitting hunched over and can stay in this position comfortably throughout the trip.

Other points to remember when using seat belts:

  • Make sure your child does not put the shoulder belt under his arm or behind his back.
    This leaves the upper body unprotected and leaves the belt system more slack, putting your child at risk of serious injury in the event of a crash or sudden stop.
  • Never let anyone “share” your belts. All passengers must have their own seats or seat belts.

Common question:

I have seen products that claim to help the belt fit better. Should I buy them?

  • No, these products should not be used. In fact, they could interfere with the proper fit of the belt, causing the lap belt to sit too high on the stomach or the shoulder belt to be too loose. They can even damage the belt. This rule also applies to car safety seats; do not use additional products unless supplied with the seat or specifically approved by the seat manufacturer. These products are not covered by any of the federal safety standards, and the AAP does not recommend their use. As long as children travel with the appropriate restraint for their size, no additional devices should be used.

How to buy car safety seats

When looking for a car safety seat, remember the following tips:

  • No seat is the “best” or the “safest .” The best seat is the one that fits your child’s size, is properly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is used properly every time you drive.
  • Don’t just decide on price . A higher price does not mean that the seat is safer or easier to use.
  • Avoid used seats if you do not know where the seat came from.

Never use a car safety seat that:

  • Be too old . Look for the date of manufacture on the label. Check with the manufacturer to find out how long the seat is recommended for use.
  • Has visible cracks .
  • Do not have a label with the date of manufacture and the model number. Without this data you cannot find out if the seat has been recalled.
  • Don’t bring instructions . You need them to know how to use the seat.
  • Missing parts . Used car safety seats are often missing important parts. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you can get the correct parts.
  • It has been withdrawn from the market . You can find out by calling the manufacturer or by contacting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety Hotline toll-free at 888-327-4236. You can also visit the NHTSA website  .
  • Do not use seats that have been involved in a moderate or severe crash . Seats that have been involved in a minor crash may still be safe to use, but some car seat manufacturers recommend changing seats after any crash, even a minor one. NHTSA considers a crash to be minor if you meet all of the following situations:
    • The vehicle could be driven from the scene of the accident.
    • The vehicle door closest to the car safety seat was not damaged.
    • None of the passengers in the vehicle was injured.
    • The airbags did not activate.
    • No damage is observed on the car safety seat.
  • If you have a specific question about the car seat, contact the manufacturer.

About the airbags ( airbag s )

All new cars have front airbags installed. When used with seat belts, airbags work well to protect teens and adults; however, airbags can be very dangerous for children, especially those in rear-facing seats, and for preschoolers and toddlers who are not properly restrained. If your vehicle has a front passenger airbag, infants in rear-facing car seats must ride in the rear seat. Even in a relatively slow-speed crash, the airbag can inflate, hit the car seat, and cause serious brain injury and death.

Vehicles without a rear seat or with a rear seat that is not made for passengers are not the best option for travelling with young children; however, the airbag can be disabled on some of these vehicles, if the front passenger seat is required for a child. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for more information.

Most new cars have side airbags installed. Side airbags improve safety for adults in side-impact crashes. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for more information about vehicle airbags. Read your car safety seat instructions and your vehicle owner’s manual for guidelines on placing the seat next to a side airbag.

About carpool rides

If someone else brings your child, make sure:

  • The car seat that your child will be using fits well in the vehicle
    used for transportation.
  • The car seat used is appropriate for the age and size
    of your child.
  • The person in charge of transporting your child knows how to install and use
    the car seat correctly.

Daycare programs and schools should have written guidelines for
transporting children; among others that:

  • All drivers must have a valid driver’s license. In
    some states, school bus drivers must have a
    special type of license.
  • The relationship between children and staff for transportation must meet or
    exceed the relationship required for the classroom.
  • All children must be supervised during transportation, either by
    school staff or a parent
    volunteering, so that the driver can focus on
    driving.
  • School personnel, teachers, and drivers should know what to
    do in an emergency, how to use
    safety seats and seat belts correctly , and be aware of other
    safety requirements .

About Car Safety Seats on Airplanes

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the AAP recommend that when flying, children under 40 pounds are well secured with certified child straps. This will help keep them safe during takeoff and landing and in the event of turbulence. Most rear-facing, convertible, and forward-facing seats can be used on aeroplanes. Booster chairs and travel vests, no.

Read your seat’s instruction manual and look for a label on the car safety seat that says, “This strap is certified for use on motor vehicles and aircraft.” You can also consider the option of wearing a strap made only for aircraft use and approved by the FAA. Older children can use the aeroplane seat belt or continue to use their car seat on the aeroplane as long as it is labelled for aeroplane use and the child has not exceeded the weight or height limit of the seat. Remember that your child will need to use an appropriate car seat when arriving at the destination. For more information, visit the FAA website, or the CARES website in English (child safety harnesses for aircraft).

If you need help with installation:

If you have questions or need help installing your car seat, find a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). On the following websites you can find lists of certified CPSTs and child seat adjustment stations:

Websites in English:

Important reminders:

  • Be a good role model . Make sure to always wear your seat belt. This will help your child form a life-long habit of wearing the belt.
  • Make sure everyone transporting your child uses the correct car seat or seat belt on all trips, at all times . Consistent use of a car seat demonstrates good parenting, reduces protests and complaints, and is the safest thing for your child.
  •  Never leave your child alone in or near cars and lock the car when you are not using it . When a child is left alone in or near a vehicle, any of the following can occur. A child can:
    •  Die from heatstroke, because temperatures can reach deadly levels in just a few minutes.
    • Being strangled by power windows, retractable seat belts, sunroofs, or accessories.
    • Activate the vehicle’s gear lever and put it in motion.
    • Being run over when the vehicle is backing up.
    • Getting trapped in the trunk of the car.
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your car safety seat . If you don’t have them, write or call the company’s customer service department. They will ask for the model number, seat name, and date of manufacture. The manufacturer’s address and phone number are on a label on the seat. Also be sure to follow the instructions in your vehicle owner’s manual regarding the use of car safety seats. Some manufacturers instructions may be available on their websites.
  • Remember to complete and mail in the registration card that comes with the car seat . You can also register your seat on the manufacturer’s website. It will be important in the event that the seat must be recalled.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning car seats . Cleaning but not disinfecting is generally allowed, as disinfectant products could reduce the protection provided by the seat and harnesses.

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