Safety Tips for Your Child's Car Seat

Last year, car seat safety testing by Consumer Reports magazine had many parents questioning the safety of their children in the car seats. The magazine later revised its recommendations, stating that all of the car seats met federal testing standards and that their method of testing was different.

Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has revamped its consumer ratings system for child safety seats. The new rating is a five star system based on the seat’s ability to secure a child, the ease of use and installation, and clear labeling and instruction manuals.

NHTSA found that 7 in 10 car seats are either the wrong size for the child, or otherwise misused. They felt the previous letter grade testing system for rating car seats was too easy. When choosing a child safety seat, remember, a seat that is easy to install and use will be the best for you and your child. You can find ease of use ratings for seats at NHTSA

SEE how to install and use your child safety seat.

Installing safety car seats for newborns and babies ( video by Baby Center)

Install a car safety seat – 4 minute video

The testing does not assess how effective the seat is at protecting a child in a crash. All seats must meet federal safety standards before they can be rated.
Any child car seat always offers greater protection to a child than leaving him unrestrained or holding him on an adult’s lap. NHTSA recommends car seats for children up to 40 lbs and booster seats for children over 40 lbs until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. Children should ride in the back seat until age 13.

Avoid used car seats. You don’t know if the seat has been recalled or damaged in an accident. Most used seats do not come with manuals, which are essential to ensuring you use the seat correctly. Recall lists can also be found at NHTSA

Look for a convertible seat that has a higher weight limit in the rear-facing position if your baby is less than 1 year and over 20 lbs. Try locking and releasing the buckle in the store. Try changing the length of the straps.

Try the seat in your vehicle. Most safety seats fit better into some vehicles than others. Cars with bucket seats or small rear seats may present problems. Child safety seats with tray restraints cannot be used in some cars with low ceilings. Find a seat that is easy to use for you, and comfortable for your child.

Just as important as finding the right safety seat is installing and using it correctly. Parents who need help installing or adjusting a child car seat can get free hands-on training from a nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technician through the state or local Safe Kids coalition

Check the Manual

The car seat manual will tell you how to correctly secure the car seat in your vehicle. The manual will also teach you how to angle the seat correctly and where to place the harness for your child’s height and weight.

Kids in Back

The back seat is generally the safest place in a crash. Place car seats in the middle of the back seat to protect against side-impact crashes, but only if the seat belt there can be effectively tightened to prevent slipping. If your vehicle has a passenger air bag, it is essential for children 12 and under to ride in back. Active air bags hit children with too much force and can cause serious injury. If you must put a child in front, deactivate the airbag on the passenger side.

About Face

Your infant should ride in a rear facing car seat, preferably in the back seat, until he is on years old and at least 20-22 lbs. Children over age one and at least 20 pounds may ride facing forward. Put the belt through the right slot. If your child car seat can be used facing either way, use the correct belt slots for each direction.

Stay Snug

Your car seat should rest as close to the bottom and back of the car seat as possible. When securing it with the seatbelt, shift and adjust the seat until it is snug and moves only a very little. Pull the seat belt as tight as you can and use any locking mechanisms available to keep it in place.

Keep the harness straps snug over your child’s shoulder. It should be tight enough to slip only one finger underneath the straps at your child’s chest. The chest clip should be adjusted to armpit level.

For a complete guide to keeping your kids safe in the car, visit SafeKids.org .