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Child Car Seats - Topic Overview

Infant and child car seats save lives. By law, children must be buckled up in a car seat that is made for their weight, height, and age. Check your state's laws at www.iihs.org/laws/default.aspx.

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 a crash.

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, and height. For safety, it is very important to have a car seat that fits your child and faces the right direction. Be sure to follow the car seat maker's recommendations. They should include weight and height guidelines. They should also tell you how to install the seat and how to secure your child in it.

The following guidelines come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

Ages 0 to 12 months

Your child younger than age 1 should always ride in a car seat that faces the back of the car camera.gif (called rear-facing). There are different types of rear-facing car seats. Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.

Ages 1 to 3 years

Keep your child rear-facing in a convertible or 3-in-1 car seat as long as possible. It's the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain rear-facing until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat's maker. As soon as your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a car seat that faces the front camera.gif (called forward-facing) and that has a harness.

Ages 4 to 7 years

Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat's maker. As soon as your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, your child can travel in a booster seat camera.gif but still in the back seat.

Ages 8 to 12 years

Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: Your child should still ride in the back seat because it's safer there.

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.

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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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