Children often outgrow car seats rapidly, so it’s essential that you select one that will last through their toddler years. Check the seat’s measurements against those of your vehicle and follow its installation instructions closely – any movement at the belt path of more than an inch side-to-side or front-to-back means it may not be secure enough.
Car seat size is an integral factor in how well it fits into your vehicle and thus the safety of your baby during travel. Each year, thousands of young children die or are injured because they were not properly restrained when riding in cars; proper use of safety seats can significantly decrease this number.
An appropriate car seat for an infant will depend on their age, weight and height as well as being approved for your car model and positioned correctly in the backseat (not front passenger seat). It should feature either harness or belts to hold them securely as well as lower anchors and/or top tethers; installation and removal should also be simple as well as stable during travel.
Infants should ride rear-facing until they outgrow the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight limits or reach four years of age, or until an infant-only car seat can accommodate them.
Babies born preterm or with special medical needs may be eligible to ride in rear-facing car seats designed specifically for them. Prior to leaving hospital, it should be assessed whether this position provides safety.
Older babies and toddlers should ride in a convertible or all-in-one car seat for safety purposes, preferring the back seat if wearing a car seat or booster; otherwise, front-seat passengers must use one with built-in headrest.
When purchasing a new car seat, its label will display information regarding its reclining angle, belt guide instructions, weight limits for lower anchor and upper tether (usually expressed in kilograms), as well as where you can secure its tether strap attachment point in order to attach and use the seat properly. The owner’s manual of your vehicle should provide further details.
Keep the chest clip of your baby’s car seat at armpit level to reduce internal injuries in an accident, which could occur from pushing against their neck during a crash. Also ensure that shoulder straps are tight enough to restrain your child safely if loose – bulky clothing like winter coats or snowsuits could compress upon impact and leave too little restraining force in an accident.
Car seat safety hinges heavily upon choosing a suitable seat for your child based on weight, height and age requirements. Although some seats can accommodate children of various sizes, it’s essential that before making your selection you inspect both labels and car seat manuals to make sure that it fits their size requirements exactly.
Infant carseats are designed specifically to be placed in a rear facing position only and experts advise keeping newborns and toddlers rear-facing until they outgrow either their maximum height or weight limit for the seat, after which point they can transition to either a convertible car seat or forward facing one.
Convertible car seats feature higher weight and height limits than infant carseats, making them an excellent option for older babies and toddlers. Some can even be converted to belt positioning boosters to keep your child safe into their teens.
Before placing your child in their new seat, double check that their harness straps are tight and secure. Pull on the crotch strap to remove any extra slack before using the Pinch Test: if pinching between fingers reveals material not tight enough for optimal fitting then more adjustment needs to be done immediately.
Installing a car seat requires reading through and following the vehicle owner’s manual as well as following specific instructions for your seat. Some cars require special attachments for lower anchors while others may offer different seat belt paths or angles to accommodate forward or rear-facing installs.
Check the angle of your child’s head while in their car seat, positioning the headrest at or above their shoulders to prevent a front crash from pushing down on their neck and spine.
Addition or modification of car seats should also be avoided to maximize safety for babies. Any modifications, such as adding harness covers or blankets, could make them too loose in their seat and could compromise their protection during an accident. Furthermore, do not put your child into their car seat while wearing thick coats or sweaters as this could cause buckle flattening when hit, rendering harness straps less snugly fit together and leading to further accidents.
Adjust a child safety seat so the harness straps lay flat across their chest and shoulder, not on their neck or under their arm. This will protect them from being pulled on weaker parts during an accident and increases their chances of survival. Some seats provide automatic height-adjustable shoulder straps while others allow parents to manually change them themselves.
Car seat height can also have an effect on how much force is transferred during a crash to children. Their head tends to absorb more of the force than their other parts when being propelled forward; therefore it’s essential that parents select a car seat that can support a growing child without jeopardizing their safety while still remaining comfortable for riding purposes.
Once a child outgrows the rear-facing weight or height limit of their convertible car seat, they should switch to a booster seat with built-in harness until they have grown large enough for an adult safety belt to fit properly in the vehicle. Booster seats have proven significantly safer than standard seatbelts in terms of reducing nonfatal injuries in 4- to 8-year olds by 45% (Elliott Kallan Durbin Winston 2006).
If a child rides in a seat that is too low, a crash’s force may impact on their stomach and throat, increasing the risk of ejection. Furthermore, forces from an accident will not be distributed evenly across their body since more force will hit chest/abdomen/head region than others.
When it comes to buckling up children in car seats, the chest clip should be at armpit level and straps tight enough to pass the pinch test without allowing any wiggle or movement within the seat. Bulky clothing such as coats and snowsuits may compress upon impact and leave too little strap tension available to restrain a crash victim properly; selecting an ideal seat requires thorough research prior to purchase as well as ongoing care and use.
Age plays an integral part in car seat safety and comfort for children. Babies and toddlers should remain rear-facing until outgrowing their infant bucket seats or reaching height or weight limits set by manufacturers; this position is safer as car crash forces are less likely to strike the head or neck upon impact, according to Benjamin Hoffman, associate professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University who helped write official American Academy of Pediatrics policies regarding passenger safety for child passenger travel.
Once your child outgrows their bucket seat, you should transition them into a convertible car seat. Convertible car seats offer both rear- and forward-facing modes so kids can stay in it longer (an alternative solution would be high-back booster seats which fit children between 40 to 80 pounds and up to 4 feet 9 inches tall.)
Jen Trolio is a Strategist senior editor and mom to two girls aged five and eight years old. She enjoyed using various versions of the Graco Extend2Fit for them; their rear-facing ability meant they could stay put as long as possible; however, recently one had to be replaced due to an older daughter growing too quickly out of its harness slots and becoming too short for correct use of seat belt.
When selecting a convertible car seat, look for models compatible with your vehicle’s LATCH system and featuring no rethread harnesses. Make sure the buckle lies across your child’s upper thighs rather than around their stomach or neck – bulky clothing may compress in an accident and leave loose harness straps, increasing risk of injury.
Though no single car seat can ever truly be considered “the best,” the one that best meets your child and vehicle requirements, is correctly installed, and used frequently is. If you need help making your selection, why not visit an in-person inspection? Certified technicians are readily available throughout most communities as well as virtual inspections from some. For assistance near you please use National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Car Seat Finder?