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Health & Baby

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How to Keep Your Child Safe in a Car

Car Seat Installation Tips continued...

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.

To minimize the risk that a child will accidentally be left behind in a car or get trapped inside:

  • Leave a purse, briefcase, or cell phone in the back seat. That way, you get in the habit of checking in the back seat before leaving the vehicle.
  • Make an arrangement with your child’s daycare to have them call you if the child doesn’t show up as expected.
  • Always lock your car and car trunk, even if the car is parked in the driveway at home, and always keep keys and fobs out of the reach of little ones.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 11, 2014
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