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Published on Sep 16, 2011 by Edgar Snyder

Parents – Would You Pass or Fail the Car Seat Safety Test?

child safely buckled in a car seat

If you're not sure you're using a safety seat or booster seat correctly, you're not alone. Statistics show that many kids aren't riding in the vehicle the way they should be.

Next week is Child Passenger Safety Week, so I thought it would be a good time to remind you about car seat, booster seat, and seat belt safety.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death for kids ages 3 to 14, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, using a child safety seat correctly decreases children's risk of death by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. And using a booster seat reduces their risk of being injured by 59 percent.

The problem is that many car seats are installed incorrectly, and every state has different laws for child passengers. The best thing you can do is use the following guidelines from the NHTSA:

  • Choose a car seat based on your child's age and height/weight, as well as one that fits well in your vehicle. You should use it every time – no exceptions.
  • Keep your child in the car seat as long as you can, until he or she no longer fits within the height and weight requirements of the seat.
  • Kids should always ride in the back seat until age 12. It's the safest place in the vehicle for them.

Birth to One Year
Infants under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. It's usually best to buy a convertible 2-in-1 car seat, because it usually has higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position. You can keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.

Ages 1-3
Rear-facing is the best position for toddlers as well. Keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until he or she no longer fits within the height or weight limits allowed by the manufacturer. Once that happens, your child should ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

Ages 4-7
You should keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she one again reaches the weight or height limits. After that, your child can ride in a booster seat in the back seat. Make sure you use the vehicle's seat belt correctly with car seats and booster seats at all times.

Ages 8-12
Your child should ride in the booster seat until he or she can fit in a seat belt properly. The seat belt fits properly if it lies snugly across the upper thighs and not the stomach, and if the shoulder belt lies snugly across the shoulder and chest. Again, all children should ride in the back seat at least through age 12.

To make sure you're installing a car seat or booster seat correctly, read your car's manual, the label on the seat belt, and the instructions on the car seat itself. If you still aren't sure, many local fire departments, hospitals, car dealerships, and police departments can tell you if you're using it correctly. It's a great resource, and I recommend taking advantage of it.

There are more safety seat guidelines available, including car seat and booster seat laws for every state.

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