Navigating the recommendations on optimal car safety restraints for children can be somewhat of a daunting task. Luckily, we’re here to help! The following summarizes current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on how best to keep your child safe in the car.
There are two types of rear-facing carseats; infant-only carseats (with a base and removable carrier) and convertible or all-in-one carseats (which remain stationary in the car and have higher height and weight limits). If you begin with an infant-only carseat, you should then transition to a convertible carseat in the rear-facing position when your baby outgrows the infant seat. Rear-facing is the safest position in the car for children and it is recommended to remain in the rear-facing position as long as possible. Current guidelines support keeping children in the rear-facing position until at least 2 years old, or until your child outgrows the height and/or weight specifications of the particular seat. You may have heard that it is safe to switch your child to the forward-facing position when they reach 1 year old and 20 pounds, but this is actually an out of date recommendation that was replaced by updated AAP and NHTSA guidelines in 2011.
When your child outgrows his/her rear-facing carseat, you may then transition to a forward-facing carseat with 5-point harness. Forward-facing carseats come in 3 varieties; convertible seats (start out rear-facing and can later transition to forward-facing), combination seats (start out as a carseat and can later transition to a booster), and forward-facing only seats (cannot be used rear-facing or as a booster). Your child should remain in the forward-facing carseat until at least 4 years old and 40 pounds before transitioning to a booster seat. It is preferable (and safer) to continue in the 5-point harness beyond these minimum guidelines until he/she exceeds the height and/or weight specifications of the particular seat.
Your child should remain in a 5-point harness carseat for as long he/she still fits properly. After this time, a booster seat is appropriate to ensure that the seatbelt in the vehicle is properly positioned on the child. They should continue in the booster seat until the vehicle’s lap belt lies across the upper thighs (NOT the belly) and the shoulder belt lies across the shoulder and chest (NOT near the neck or head). They generally do not reach this point until they are at least 8 years old and often closer to 10-12 years old (a general height guideline for most cars is 4 feet 9 inches tall).
Children can safely transition out of a booster seat when they can sit up straight with their back flat against the seat and knees bent at the edge of the seat with the vehicle’s lap belt across their upper thighs and shoulder belt across their shoulder and chest. As noted above, this is typically not accomplished until they are close to 10-12 years old and around 4 feet 9 inches tall. They should remain in the back seat of the vehicle rather than the front until at least 13 years old and ALL passengers in the car should wear seat belts at all times (including yourself- it is important both for you own safety and to model good behavior for your children).
Please ask us for clarification if any of the above information has raised further questions. Additionally, the following links can provide you with much more information on this very broad topic. If you are unsure if your child’s carseat is installed properly, you can navigate from the NHTSA/safercar site below to find inspection stations located near your home.
“The Car Seat Lady”: http://thecarseatlady.com