For many parents, you buckle up your kids and off you go to day care, school or the park. You trust their car seat or booster seat will keep your child safe should something happen, but are you sure the seat you installed months or years ago is truly secure?
“I am deeply concerned that nearly half of all car seats are not used correctly,” says Heidi King, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “You don’t have to be a parent to play a part in protecting children. I urge everyone to follow these simple tips to ensure kids stay safe in the car at every age.”
The right car seat is the best protection in a crash
Every 33 seconds, a child under 13 years old is involved in a car crash, according to NHTSA data. Even more startling: Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1-13.
One of the most common mistakes parents and caregivers make is moving children to the next car seat too soon. No matter their age, you need to make sure that the car seat you use is the right one for your child’s age, as well as their size (based on their weight and height).
Newborn to 3 years (infant and rear-facing car seat)
The youngest passengers should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the maximum weight or height of their seat. This positioning better absorbs the force of an impact, making it a better option for small passengers whose necks and spines are still developing. In fact, car seats have been shown to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants (under one year old) in passenger cars.
Keep in mind, even if your child’s feet touch the back of the vehicle seat, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for a forward-facing seat. Parents shouldn’t move their toddlers into a forward-facing car seat until they’ve hit the maximum height or weight limit of their current car seat.
4-7 years old (forward-facing car seat)
At this age your child will likely use a forward-facing car seat with a harness. One critical step for installing this car seat correctly is making sure to secure it with its tether, not just a seat belt. The tether is an adjustable strap with a hook that can be found at the top of most forward-facing car seats. When you secure the tether to the tether anchor in your vehicle, it keeps the car seat from moving forward in a crash, helping protect your child from head and neck injuries.
Additionally, always make sure the chest clip is secured across the chest rather than on the belly. These clips have a tendency to move down, so it’s up to caregivers to align it properly. Make it a habit to always slide the clip up to the appropriate place after buckling your child in to their seat.
8-12 years old (booster seat)
After a child exceeds the age and size limits of their forward-facing seat, they can transition to a booster seat. A booster seat lifts a child up and helps their body properly align with the vehicle’s existing seat belt.
Kids should stay in a booster seat until they are big enough to sit properly with the lap and shoulder belt securely buckled. That means the lap belt is snug across their upper thighs, not their stomach, and the shoulder belt is snug across their shoulder and chest, not their neck or face.
“Tweens” and preteens (seat belt)
Once your child is big enough to ride safely without needing a car seat or booster seat, keep in mind the back seat is still the safest place. All kids 13 and under should ride in the back, even if they try to convince you the front is the “cool” place to be.
For more advice and to find a car seat check location near you, visit NHTSA.gov/TheRightSeat.