How Safe Are Your Kids in Your Car?

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If you’re a soon-to-be or new parent, the world of carseats can be rather intimidating. It doesnʼt have to be. There are a few things to remember to keep your precious children safe.

car seat safety

Seat types

  • Infant carrier – Otherwise known as a “baby bucket.” These seats are only to be used rear facing – NEVER forward facing. They can be installed with just a click when using a base making it easy to move baby and seat from car to stroller to house. Check the seatʼs specific specs for weight limits. Infants often fit best in these seats, though they are just as safe in a convertible seat if it fits properly.
  • Convertible seat – These seats are able to face both backwards and forwards. Many convertible seats can be used from birth assuming it fits properly (see below). Convertible seats do not use a base and cannot easily be moved from one car to the next.
  • Harness to Booster seat – These seats are forward facing only. They offer a harness while also converting to a high-back belt positioning booster.
  • Booster seat – These seats have no harness. They can be high or low back and are used with a lap and shoulder belt. Never use a booster seat with a lap belt only.

Seat recommendations for children

  • Infant carrier – Recommended for newborns until the seat is outgrown.
  • Convertible seat – May be used from newborn (if the seat properly fits) until the seat is outgrown. The AAP recommends that babies remain rear facing until 2 years old and 30 pounds or until the seat is outgrown (meaning older than two).
  • Harness to Booster seat – Children are much safer in a harness until they can pass the 5-Step Test (usually around age 5 – 6). Once your child passes the 5-Step Test, it is safe to start booster training your child so he or she learns how to sit safely at all times. A booster seat without a harness is not safe and illegal in most states before 4 years of age.
  • Booster seat – Booster seats should be used until the child is 4ʼ9” or taller and fits an adult lap belt correctly.

Installation basics

  • Read the seat manual and your carʼs manual prior to installing. Consider having your seat install checked by a CPST (Certified Passenger Safety Technician). As a general rule, rear facing seats should not touch the front seats (with a few exceptions). There should be less than 1” of movement of the seat at the belt path.
  • Rear facing seats need to have the harness at or BELOW the shoulders. Forward facing seats need to have the harness at or ABOVE the shoulders.
  • A rear facing seat is outgrown when either the weight limit is reached or there is 1” or less of hard shell left above babyʼs head (check your manual for exceptions).
  • A forward facing seat is outgrown when either the weight limit is reached or when either the shoulders are above the top harness slot or the ears are above the top of the seat.
  • Both LATCH and seatbelt installations are equally safe when done correctly. Use the one that gives you the best install. Be aware that many cars do not allow LATCH in the center position of a rear seat and do not allow LATCH anchors to be shared by two seats.
  • The chest clip is precisely that – a CHEST clip. It should be at the nipple or armpit line. Chest clips are designed to hold the harness in place and are designed to break away in a crash. If the clip is too low, it can cause internal injuries in the event of a collision.
  • After market accessories should not be used (strap covers, infant padding, etc). Only use the accessories that come with your seat. After market accessories have not been crash tested with each seat (though some do claim to be crash tested). These accessories will void warranties and may cause insurance claims to be denied in the event of an accident. Some will even re-route the harness straps (like the Bundle Me) or cause the chest clip to be too low (like many strap covers).

There is no such thing as the “safest” carseat. All seats must pass the same tests before being released on the market. Very few manufacturers release their test results so comparison is very difficult. The safest seat is the one that fits your child and your vehicle and is used correctly every time.