Child safety seats are critical pieces of equipment that save thousands of young lives each year. Car accidents are a leading cause of childhood death in the U.S. It is against the law in all 50 states to transport a child in a vehicle without using the proper safety restraint system. Car seats can increase the odds of avoiding injuries in a crash by up to 82%. Manufacturers have designed the safest possible seats for infants and toddlers through years of testing, research, and trial and error. Choosing the right car seat is necessary if you wish to keep your child as safe as possible in a collision.
Choose By Age, Height and Weight
Selecting the correct car seat for your child takes looking not only at the child’s age, but also his or her height and weight. Each safety seat will come with instructions that state the maximum height and weight the seat will safely accommodate. As a parent or guardian, always know a car seat’s maximums. Do not allow a child that exceeds the height or weight limit to continue using the same car seat. This could put the child in jeopardy if a crash were to occur.
- Infancy to age two. From the day you bring your child home from the hospital to about age two, use a rear-facing car seat. A rear-facing seat shields a baby from the top injury risks in an accident. Forty pounds is the maximum weight on most rear-facing car seats.
- Ages two to four. Once an infant reaches 40 pounds, switch to a forward-facing car seat. Most children should stay in forward-facing seats until age four unless a child reaches the car seat’s maximum height or weight limit.
- Ages four to eight. A child is usually ready for a booster seat at 40 to 65 pounds depending on his or her height. Booster seats are common for children ages four to eight, or until the child is tall enough to correctly use a seatbelt.
According to California law, children must stay in car seats or booster seats until at least the age of eight. Children eight or older who have grown to at least four feet nine inches tall may graduate to seatbelts. The seatbelt should sit across the child’s lap and shoulder, not stomach or neck. All drivers and passengers in California ages 16 and older must wear seatbelts. Children should always sit in the backseat for the best protection during accidents.
Purchase a Car Seat New
As important as it is to choose the right type of car seat for your child, it is also critical to ensure the safety of the seat itself. The quality of the car seat could make a big difference in a collision. Look at the car seat label. It should have a statement saying it meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. The car seat should use a five-point harness. It should also have a safety rating of at least four stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ease of use ratings.
Never purchase a car seat used. A second-hand car seat could be old, outdated or dangerous. A car seat that has been in the sun for years, for example, could have brittle plastic that breaks too easily in a crash. If you cannot afford to purchase a new car seat, several state and federal organizations can help. Contact your local police station or hospital to ask about a free or subsidized car seat.
Check for Recalls
Before you confirm a car seat purchase, double-check the seat is not on the national recall list. Search for the brand and type of car seat you wish to buy. Most stores that sell car seats also have recalls posted for customers to see. A recalled seat might unreasonably increase your child’s risk of injury due to a design flaw or manufacturing defect. You may be able to take the seat somewhere for repairs, exchange it for a different model or get a full refund if you already bought a car seat that has a defect.