Tips on Child Car Seat Safety
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Car crashes are the most frequent cause of injury and injury-related death in children. Infant and child car seats have reduced these injuries by nearly half since 1997. However, these seats are only effective if they are used properly.
Types of Child Car Seats
There are two main categories of seats: rear-facing and forward-facing. Other categories include convertible, combination, 3-in-1, and booster seats.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be kept in rear-facing seats for as long as possible:
Rear-facing infant seats may come with removable bases. In seats with removable bases, the base stays in the car so you do not need to install it each time you put your baby in the car. Here are some tips for rear-facing infant seats:
Your child can ride in a forward-facing seat after they have reached 2 years or older, or have reached the highest height and weight allowed by the manufacturer of the rear-facing seat. Here are some additional recommendations:
Convertible seats can be used as both rear-facing and forward-facing seats, depending on the baby’s height and weight. They are bigger than rear-facing infant seats and can be used longer. Follow the AAP's recommendations for keeping babies rear-facing as long as possible. If your child is riding in a convertible seat, they can be turned to face forward after meeting the AAP's guidelines. Check the seat's instructions to see if the recline angle of the seat needs to be adjusted.
3-in-1 seats can be used as rear-facing, forward-facing or as a booster seat. This allows longer use of the seat as your child grows. They do not have a carrying handle or separate base, but are good because they may have a higher weight for rear-facing children (up to 40-45 pounds or 18-21 kg).
Since they are bigger, just make sure that it fits in the vehicle properly.
Combination seats have a harness that can be removed to allow the seat to function as a booster. Combination seats cannot be used rear-facing. They can be used with a harness for children who weigh up to 40-80 pounds (18-36 kg). The booster can be used without a harness for children who weigh up to 80-120 pounds (36-54.5 kg). If your child is using the seat without a harness, follow the recommendations for booster seats.
These are designed to allow your child to use the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts. Your child should continue to use a car safety seat with a harness as long as possible before switching to a booster seat.
Follow the AAP recommendations for booster seats:
Continue to place your child in the booster seat until he or she is large enough to fit correctly into an adult seat belt. This is usually when they are about 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 meters) tall and 8-12 years old.
Choosing a Child Car Seat
Keep in mind that price does not indicate the a certain car seat is best or safest. The safest is the one that works best for your child. Here are some things to look for when you are shopping for a car seat.
When you are done with the installation, send the registration card to the manufacturer after purchase. That way, you will be notified if there are problems or recalls.
Second-hand seats are an option if you do not need a new one. Do not use a seat if you do not know the seat's history. Do not use a seat that:
Correct Use of the Child Car Seat
Unfortunately a significant percentage of car seats are improperly installed.
To ensure your child’s safety, do the following:
Your local police or fire station may have a program that offers a check on car seats to make sure they are properly installed. Check with your local officials.
Information on Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians
NHTSA has a list of certified CPS technicians who can help you with any questions you may have about the proper installation and use of child safety and booster seats. A list by state or ZIP code is available on the NHTSA website. There are also inspection stations where you can get instruction on proper installation. The list is available in English and Spanish.
American Academy of Pediatrics—Healthy Children
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Canada Safety Council
AAP updates recommendation on car seats. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Updates-Recommendation-on-Car-Seats.aspx. Updated March 21, 2011. Accessed August 24, 2016.
Car seat tips. Safe Kids Worldwide website. Available at:
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Accessed August 24, 2016.
Car seats: Information for families. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx. Updated February 18, 2016. Accessed August 24, 2016.
Last reviewed August 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 8/24/206
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