Most mommies know the importance of using a child restraint when traveling by car, but many don’t know the intricacies of using car seats properly or the possible consequences of using car seats improperly.

Here’s a few tips for ensuring your child is riding safely in the car every time:

Read the Manual:Seat-belts-and-safety-2

  • Everything a parent or caregiver needs to know about using a car seat can be found in the manual that comes with the seat
  • It is important to read through the manual cover to cover before using or installing any car seat
  • If you need the manual for your seat, they can usually be found online through the car seat manufacturer’s website

Know your options: There are many types of child car seats including

  • Rear-facing only infant carriers
  • Convertible seats which rear-face and forward face harnessed
  • 3-in-1 or All-in-1 seats that can be used rear-facing, forward facing with a harness and as a belt positioning booster
  • Combination seats are forward facing only that can be used with a harness and as a belt positioning booster
  • Booster seats which are only used to position the vehicle seat belt

Choose the right type of car seat:

  • Children under 20 pounds and 1 year of age must ride rear-facing but The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children under the age of 2 ride in a rear-facing seat (infant carrier or convertible) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests rear-facing children until as close to 4 as possible or until they outgrow their seat rear-facing
  • The NHTSA also recommends keeping children in a forward-facing harnessed seat to the maximum limits of the seat
  • Children should ride in a booster seat until the child fits properly in the vehicle seatbelt with the belt low and snug on the upper things, not stomach, and the shoulder belt across the shoulder, not the neck or face
  • It is also suggested that all children should ride in the backseat through the 12th year

Make sure your child fits:

  • Every car seat has its own height, weight and age minimums and maximums. Using any seat beyond the stated limits can put your child in danger
  • Make sure you are using any inserts as required by the manufacturer (this information can be found in the car seat manual)

Adjust the seat to properly fit your child:

  • When rear-facing, the harness straps should be adjusted to come from at or below the child’s shoulders
  • When forward facing, the harness straps should be adjusted to come from at or above the child’s shoulders
  • The chest clip should be placed at the level of the child’s armpits
  • The straps should be tightened until you cannot pinch the strap at the child’s shoulders

Check the car seat is safe for use:

  • Whenever possible, use a seat bought new in the box with all tags attached
  • All car seats pass the same safety tests, so the cheapest seat will protect your child just as well as the most expensive as long as it is used properly
  • Only use a secondhand seat you receive from a trusted source and ensure the seat is not expired.  The manufacture date will be clearly stated on a sticker on the seat and the expiration date may be also be on a sticker or stamped into the plastic
  • Also ensure a used seat has never been in an accident, the harness straps have never been washed and that there have been no recalls on the seat

Ensure the seat is properly installed:

  • When installing the car seat in the car, you can use the LATCH strap and lower anchors or the vehicle seatbelt, but never both at the same time
  • When forward facing you should always use the Top Tether strap, whether installed with lower LATCH or vehicle seatbelt (top tether anchors are standard in all cars manufactured after 2002 and can often be retrofitted in cars older than 2002 by a dealer)
  • Only use the lower LATCH anchors in the middle of a car if your car has dedicated center lower anchors or your car seat and vehicle allow “LATCH borrowing” (this information can be found in your car seat manual and vehicle owner’s manual)
  • Most car seats are not allowed to touch the front seat when rear-facing and infant carriers have specific requirements for what position the carry handle needs to be in (this information can be found in the car seat’s manual)
  • When properly installed, check that the car seat moves less than 1 inch side to side.  To test the movement, grasp the seat near where the belt runs through the restraint and jiggle firmly (it is normal and safe for seats to have more movement at the head portion of the seat, especially when installed rear-facing)