One of the most important jobs you have as a parent is keeping your child safe when they are riding in a vehicle.
Each year, thousands of young children are killed or injured in car crashes. Proper use of car safety seats helps keep children safe. But, because so many different seats are on the market, many parents find this overwhelming. Help is available. Read on for tips on choosing the car seat that best fits your child.
Differences in car seats
Car safety seats are not all the same. The type of seat your child needs depends on several things, including your child’s age, size, and developmental needs. So, it’s important to read the vehicle owner’s manual and the car safety seat manual each time you install the seat. All parents can benefit from getting professional installation help to ensure that their child’s seat is properly installed.
Car safety seats may be installed with either the vehicle’s seat belt or its LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. LATCH is an attachment system for car safety seats. Lower anchors can be used instead of the seat belt to install the seat, and many parents find them easier to use in some cars. The top tether should always be used with a forward-facing seat, whether you use the seat belt or lower anchors to secure it. The seat belt and LATCH systems are equally safe, so caregivers should use one or the other, whichever works best for them, for their car safety seat, and their vehicle. In general, caregivers should only use 1 of the 2 options unless the car safety seat and vehicle manufacturers say it is OK to use 2 systems at the same time.
Vehicles with the LATCH system have lower anchors located in the back seat, where the seat cushions meet. Tether anchors are located behind the seat, either on the panel behind the seat (in sedans) or on the back of the seat, ceiling, or floor (in most minivans, SUVs, hatchbacks, and pickup trucks). All forward-facing car safety seats have tethers or tether connectors that fasten to these anchors. Nearly all passenger vehicles and all car safety seats made on or after September 1, 2002, are equipped to use LATCH. See vehicle owner’s manual for highest weight of child allowed to use top tether.
All lower anchors are rated for a maximum weight of 65 pounds (total weight includes car safety seat and child). Parents should check the car safety seat manufacturer’s recommendations for maximum weight a child can be to use lower anchors. New car safety seats have the maximum weight printed on their label.
NOTE: Seat belts—If you install a car safety seat by using your vehicle’s seat belt, you must make sure the seat belt locks to hold the seat tightly. In most newer cars, you can lock the seat belt by pulling it all the way out and then allowing it to retract to keep the seat belt tight around the car safety seat. In addition, many car safety seats have built-in lock-offs so you can lock the belt without having to lock the seat belt separately as well. Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for details about how your seat belt locks.
Middle of the back seat—The safest place to ride for all children younger than 13 years is the back seat. If possible, it may be best for the child to ride in the middle of the back seat. However, it is sometimes difficult to install a car safety seat tightly in the middle if the vehicle seat is narrow or uneven. Also, many vehicles do not have lower anchors for the middle seating position. It is safest to put the car safety seat in a position where you can install it tightly with either the lower anchor system or the seat belt; in some cases, this position may be on either side of the back seat rather than in the middle. A child passenger safety technician (CPST or CPS technician) can help you decide which place is best to install your child’s car safety seat in your vehicle.
Load legs and anti-rebound bars on car seats installed in the rear-facing position help absorb the energy of a crash. Load legs reduce forward rotation in the initial phase of a crash. Anti-rebound bars protect the child during the second phase of a crash from rearward rotation.
A recline feature on forward-facing convertible, all-in-one and combination seats is helpful for children with disabilities who are not able to keep their head and neck straight. The recline feature keeps the head from drooping forward.
Forward-facing car seat restraints
The large array of forward-facing car seat restraints on the market can be dizzying.
As a parent, you may be uncertain which features to look for based on your child’s age, size and other needs.
Any child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for her convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by her car safety seat manufacturer.