Travel Has Changed, But Car Seat Safety Remains

Car crashes are a leading cause of death and injury for children. In many cases, these deaths and injuries can be prevented by use of car seats, boosters, and seat belts.

To keep your child protected in the event of a crash, here are some child passenger safety tips and reminders.

Finding the Right Fit

Any car seat sold in the United States must meet federal safety standards. The best seat for your child is one that fits their age, size and developmental level. The car seat should fit your vehicle(s) and will be easy enough to use correctly every time. Other considerations include your budget and lifestyle. 

To help you select a car seat for your budget and lifestyle, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes Ease-of-Use Ratings (click on Car Seats).

Second-Hand Car Seats

Obtaining a used seat sounds economical, but you need to know the history of the car seat. Was it ever in a crash? NHTSA recommends replacing a car seat after a moderate or severe crash, even if a child wasn’t in the seat at the time. Some manufacturers recommend replacing their seats after any collision. Lastly, most car seats expire six to 10 years from the date of manufacture because materials can degrade over time and hidden damage could cause the seat to fail during a crash.

Make Changes as Your Child Grows

Read the car seat manual and the labels on your seat to see what adjustments might be necessary as your child grows. For example:

  • For an infant, you might need to remove the seat’s body pillow, as these are often only for newborns and small babies. The recline angle may also need to be altered for a larger or older infant.
  • The harness may need to be moved. When a child is rear-facing, harness straps should be routed at or slightly below their shoulders. For forward-facing, harness straps should be routed at or slightly above the shoulders.
  • You might need to change your installation from lower anchors to the vehicle seat belt. All lower anchors are rated for a maximum weight of 65 pounds (total weight includes car safety seat and child). Always use the tether with a forward-facing car seat.

When Your Child Outgrows Their Car Seat

Rear-facing seat

Your child outgrows their rear-facing seat when they reach the weight or height limits of the seat, according to the car seat manual instructions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat. Most of these seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear facing for two years or more.

Forward-facing seat

Your child outgrows their forward-facing seat when they reach the weight or height limits of the seat, according to the car seat manual instructions. The AAP recommends that once a child reaches the rear-facing weight or height limit for their convertible seat, they should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat manufacturer. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds.

Booster Seats and Seat Belts

It is best to wait until your child is five to six years old to use a booster. At that point, they should have the right physical development and be mature enough to wear the lap and shoulder belt properly – no slouching, leaning or putting the belt behind their head or under their arm. Both New York and Vermont require a car seat or booster for children until they are 8 years old, but a child older than 8 years old should continue to use a booster seat until the adult seat belt fits properly. It is safest to keep children under the age of 13 in the back seat.

Get a Car Seat Fitting

Get current information and have your child’s seat checked in your vehicle by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician at a car seat fitting (inspection) station or event. In most cases, an appointment for an inspection is required at a fitting station but not for an event.

List of fitting stations:

List of car seat inspection events:

Maureen Johnson, CPST-I, CSP is the Child Passenger Safety Specialist at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and UVM Medical Center.

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