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How to Keep Your Child Safe in a Car

Evaluating Car Seat Quality

You know which type of car seat you need, but what about the brand and model? Here are a few features to look for:

Safety label. Make sure the seat has a label stating that it meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.

Five-point harness. It will protect your baby better than a three-point harness.

Ratings. Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) five-star ease of use ratings system. A seat that's earned four or five stars will have clear instructions and be easy to use.

New car seat. It's always better to buy a car seat new. If you do have to buy a used seat, search on the NHTSA's web site to make sure it hasn't been recalled. Also, call the manufacturer to check that the seat is still safe. DON'T use any used seat that:

  • is obviously worn
  • has loose or torn parts
  • has been in an accident

Car Seat Installation Tips

Now that you've got your car seat, it's time to install the seat in your car. It's important that the car seat is secured properly.

Even if the safety seat looks secure, it may not be. Three out of four parents are driving around with improperly installed child seats. And that's dangerous for their children.

Here's a step-by-step guide to installing a rear-facing or convertible car seat:

  1. Read BOTH the car seat manufacturer's installation instructions and your car's owner's manual instructions completely. Make sure you know how to use the seat belts or LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system with your car seat before you start the installation process.
  2. ONLY install the car seat in the back seat. That's where your child is safest until he or she turns 13 or reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches.
  3. Follow the car seat's instructions exactly as you thread the seat belt through the car seat belt path and tighten it.
  4. Buckle and lock the seat belt.
  5. Press down on the seat firmly to tighten it. The car seat should not move more than 1 inch from side to side or forward and backward once it's installed.
  6. Check the car seat manufacturer's instructions to make sure the safety seat is reclined at the correct angle.

Also check that your child is secured properly in the seat:

  • The harness straps should be placed through the slots at or below your baby's shoulders.
  • The straps should lie flat against your child's body.
  • You can tell that the harness is snug enough when you can't pinch any extra material at the shoulders.
  • The chest clip should be at your child's armpit level.

Don't stress out over car seat installation. If you've been wrestling with the seat for hours and you still can't figure it out, visit an NHTSA car seat inspection station in your area. Often, they're located at fire stations. A certified technician will show you how to properly install and use your car seat -- often for free.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 22, 2012

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