Would your child’s car seat save his or her life? Are you sure? At least four out of five children riding in car seats are improperly restrained, according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration. And since more children are killed each year in car crashes than from any other type of injury, it’s crucial to have the right car safety seat—and to have it properly installed.
You also need to heed safety rules: Never place children under 12 in the front seat—especially if that front seat has an air bag. The inflated air bag’s force can cause death or serious brain injury to an infant or a child—even if he or she is riding in a safety seat.
When selecting a car seat, follow these guidelines:
- Babies younger than 1 year and under 20 pounds should ride in infant-only seats, which must be rear-facing and semireclined at a 45-degree angle. Attach shoulder harnesses at or below your infant’s shoulders. Make sure the safety seat’s clip is level with your baby’s armpit, not his or her stomach or neck.
- Convertible safety seats can be used rear-facing for infants and upright and forward-facing for toddlers who weigh from 20 to 40 pounds.
For forward-facing seats, place the shoulder strap at or above your child’s shoulders. Position the harness chest clip at armpit level.
- Combination seats use an internal harness for toddlers and convert to belt-positioning boosters for children who weigh more than 40 pounds.
- Once children reach 40 pounds and are less than 4'9" tall, they should be placed in booster seats, which allow their legs to bend normally.
How do you know when your child has outgrown his or her booster seat? Children ages 8–12 and 4'9" tall can normally use a seat belt only. Follow these guidelines to determine if your child is ready for a seat belt:
- The chest harness must fit snugly across your child’s chest, not touching the neck or throat.
- The lap belt must lie snug over your child’s thighs, not the waist or stomach.
- Your child’s knees must be able to bend over the edge of the vehicle’s seat when he or she sits back without slouching.