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Child Car Seats

Infant and child car seats save lives. The laws in each state are different. Most states require them for all children under age 4 and those weighing less than 40 lb (18 kg). But some states require car seats to be used for children up to age 6 or 60 lb (27 kg).

A child who is not in a car seat can be seriously injured or killed during a crash or an abrupt stop, even at low speeds. A parent's arms are not strong enough to hold and protect a baby during a car accident. Many unrestrained children die because they are torn from an adult's arms during an accident.

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Set a good example for your children by always wearing your own seat belt. And always insist that they buckle up.

Requirements for car seats

Buy a car seat appropriate for your child's current age, weight, or height. For safety, it is very important to have a car seat that fits your child and faces the right direction.1

  • Your infant or toddler's car seat needs to face to the rear until your child is 2 years old or almost 2.
    • You may choose to start your child in an infant-only car seat camera.gif when your child is a newborn. This type of car seat reclines, typically has a handle, and can be removed from its base. This type of car seat only faces to the rear. As soon as your child has outgrown the highest weight or height allowed by the infant car seat's manufacturer, switch to a convertible car seat or 3-in-1 car seat. Face it to the rear until your child is 2 years old or is almost 2 and has outgrown the highest rear-facing weight or height allowed by that car seat's manufacturer.
    • You may choose to start your child in a convertible car seat or a 3-in-1 car seat when your child is a newborn. These types of car seats can be changed from rear-facing to forward-facing. Face this car seat to the rear until your child is 2 years old or is almost 2 and has outgrown the highest rear-facing weight or height allowed by the manufacturer.
  • When your child is 2 years old or if your child is almost 2 and has outgrown the convertible car seat or 3-in-1 car seat's rear-facing weight or height limit, your child's car seat needs to face forward. Keep using a forward-facing car seat camera.gif with the harness until your child is around 4 years old and has outgrown the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat's manufacturer.
  • Use a booster seat with a regular lap and shoulder belt when your child has outgrown the forward-facing car seat's height and weight limit for using a harness. Booster seats camera.gif raise the child up so that the lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly. Adjust the shoulder belt to fit across the shoulder, not the neck. Use this type of seat until adult seat belts fit your child correctly, usually when your child is about 4 ft (1.2 m)9 in. (22.9 cm) tall and age 8 to 12.

Don't buy a used car seat. If a car seat has been recalled or has been in an accident or misused, it may not fully protect your baby.

Proper positioning

The safest position for your baby or child is in the back, middle seat of the car.

  • Do not place your child's car seat in the front seat of any vehicle with a passenger side air bag that cannot be turned off.
  • Do not allow anyone younger than age 13 to sit in the front seat of any vehicle.
  • Make sure a rear-facing seat is at an angle where your infant's head does not flop forward.
  • Take extra care if you have a premature infant. Slouching may affect his or her breathing and oxygen supply.

For maximum safety, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for car seat use, which should include weight guidelines, installation procedures, and how to position and secure your child. Cars manufactured since September 2002 are equipped with a standardized car safety seat attachment system. This feature allows parents to secure the car seat onto a permanently installed hook.

Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians can help you install your car seat and position your child safely. To find help in your area, go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.cfm or www.seatcheck.org. You can also call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 1-888-327-4236.

Do not let your child get out of his or her seat while the car is moving. If your child needs attention, stop the car, take the child out of the seat, take care of his or her needs, and put him or her back into the seat before the car starts moving again. If your child is fussy again soon after, stop and check your child again.

Citations

  1. Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Policy statement: Child passenger safety. Pediatrics, 127(4): 788–793. Also available online:

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Last Revised January 22, 2013

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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