Like many people, before my wife and I had kids, we knew nothing about car seat safety. Then our twins were born and we had to educate ourselves very quickly. We also learned that car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13 . That is a sobering reality and makes educating yourself on car seat safety that much more important.
We've compiled information from the experts to offer parents and caregivers some helpful guidelines to keep that precious cargo safe.
Car Seat Installation Tips
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration here are some car seat installation tips:
Read the car seat instruction manual and the portion of your vehicle owner's manual on car seat installation. Every car seat needs to be installed using either the lower anchors or the seat belt to secure it in place. If you choose to use a seat belt to install your car seat, pay close attention to how to lock your seat belt in the vehicle owner’s manual. Because every car seat and vehicle is different, it’s important to follow all instructions carefully.
Place the car seat in the back seat of your vehicle and follow the manufacturer’s installation directions. The car seat must be secured tightly in the vehicle. It should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than one (1) inch when pulled at the belt path.
If it is a forward-facing seat and has a tether strap, connect it to the tether anchor and tighten. This step is very important as it limits forward head movement in a crash.
If it is a rear-facing seat, make sure the car seat is installed at the correct recline angle. Most car seats have built-in angle indicators or adjusters that help with this step. If you have questions, trained Child Passenger Safety Technicians can help you. Many local fire and police stations offer free car seat inspections.
Fitting Your Child Correctly In The Seat
Fitting your child properly in their seat is the most crucial step to keeping your child safe. Follow these steps below every single time your child gets in the car seat.
Properly position the harness on your child.
Rear-facing: Harness straps should lie flat, not twisted, and be placed through the slot that is at or below your child’s shoulders.
Forward-facing: Harness straps should lie flat, not twisted, and be placed through the slot that is at or above your child’s shoulders.
Buckle the harness and the chest clip and tighten.
The harness is snug enough when extra material cannot be pinched at the shoulder. Make sure the chest clip is at armpit level.
In rear-facing seats, one rule of thumb is to allow at least an inch from the top of the car seat to the top of a child’s head. In a forward-facing convertible seat, the tops of the ears should not be above the top of the car seat shell or head restraint. In all cases, check with your manual as every seat has different requirements.
Many car seats have multiple slots for the crotch buckle to accommodate your growing child. Make sure you refer to your manual to use the proper slot position for your seat.
Today seats are being manufactured with higher weight and height limits to allow children to rear-face longer. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. This could be until the child is 3-4 years old. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep them safe.
Children ages 12 and younger should remain in the back seat in the recommended safety seat where it is most safe.
If you have any questions about car seat safety, make sure to look at the NHTSA's information on car seat and booster seat safety. To choose the right car seat for your child click here and the NHTSA website will provide all the information you will need.