Did you buy your child's car seat from a yard sale? Is your rear-facing seat angled to the correct degree? Does the car seat rock a little when you wiggle it? These are all questions that must be answered before getting back in the car with your child.
Each year, thousands of children are injured or killed in car accidents. In fact, for children ages 3 to 14 years, car crashes are the leading cause of death. To ensure maximum safety on the road for your little loved ones, follow these car seat safety guidelines.
No matter what seat your child is in, it is important that he or she is in a seat that meets safety and crash-performance test standards. New seats fit the bill, but it is impossible to know if a used or hand-me-down car seat does. Used car seats could have been in an accident or could be missing parts. And just like food, car seats expire. With that in mind, only use a car seat for six to nine years, then go for a new one.
What kind of car seat you select for your child is determined by your child's age, height, and weight. There are different styles appropriate for different stages in your child's life. Picking the right car seat can get confusing and overwhelming. Just remember that all children should be strapped in the back seat of the car until they are at least 12 years old.
Before the age of one, your baby should be in a rear-facing car seat. There are several different types of these, including infant-only, convertible, and three-in-one seats. The last two allow you to change the direction and the harnesses as the child grows. An infant seat should recline back at a 45-degree angle. Most new seats have a level on the side to help get the angle correct. This reclining position ensures your baby's head will be supported and won't fall on his or her chest.
When installing the seat, cinch it down tightly. If you can move the seat more than an inch from side to side or front to back, it's not tight enough. Once your child is in the chair, adjust the shoulder straps to where they meet at or right above your child's shoulders. The harness straps should be snug around their body so that only your finger can fit between the straps and your baby's body. Never put your child in a rear-facing seat in the front seat of a car with an activated passenger air bag.
Though children may rather see out the front of the car, rear-facing seats are safest. Keep your child facing the rear for as long as possible, at least until they meet the height and weight requirements set forth by the car seat's manufacturer. At this point, your child is ready to transition to a forward-facing seat with a harness. These seats must also be tightly secured by the seat belt. Adjust the shoulder straps at the slot at or right above the child's shoulders.
The next stage in car travel for your little one is the booster seat, which elevates your child to a position in which the seat belt fits across the lap and neck properly. Children generally need to use a booster until they reach a height of four feet nine inches and are between the ages of 8 and 12 years. At this size, the seat belt should lie across the upper thigh rather than the stomach and the shoulder belt should lie across the shoulder and chest rather than the neck or near the face.