Every year, thousands of children are killed or injured in car crashes. Keeping your baby safe when traveling in a car or any other vehicle is very important. The first step in keeping your baby safe while traveling is choosing a safe car seat that suits your baby's age and weight, and that fits your vehicle. Proper use of car safety seats helps keep children safe. Baby safety seats are proven to save children's lives in accidents.
As many different types of baby car seats are available in the market, many parents are confused about choosing an appropriate car seat for their baby. The type of seat your child needs depends on several things, including your child's age, size, and developmental needs. Here is information about choosing the most appropriate car seat for your child.
Tips For Choosing A Baby Car Seat
Keep the following tips in mind when you are selecting a baby car seat:
- It is best to use a new car seat. Used car seats often do not have instructions. They may have cracks or other problems that make the seat unsafe. For example, the seat may have been damaged during a car accident.
- The seat must fit your child's size and be able to be properly installed in your vehicle.
- Try the seat before buying it. Install the seat in your vehicle. Put your child in the car seat. Secure the harness and buckle. Check that the seat fits your vehicle and child.
- Don’t use a car seat past its expiration date. The seat frame may no longer be strong enough to support your child safely. The expiration date is usually on the bottom of the seat.
- Don’t use a seat that has been recalled. Fill out and send in the registration card that comes with the new car seat. The manufacturer can contact you if the seat is recalled.
Tips On Baby Car Seat Safety
Keep the following safety tips in mind when using a baby car seat:
- When your child is born, you must have a car seat to bring the baby home from the hospital.
- Always secure your child in a car seat whenever riding in a vehicle. Make sure the harness is fastened snugly.
- Read the car seat manufacturer's instructions for the proper way to use the seat. Read your vehicle owner's manual, too.
- Car seats and booster seats should always be used on the back seat of a vehicle. If there is no back seat, the car seat can be secured on the front passenger seat. This can only be done when there is no front or side air bag, or the air bag has been switched off.
- Even after children are big enough to wear a seat belt, riding in the back seat is safest.
Types Of Baby Car Seats
The following are different types of baby car seats:
- Rear-facing seats
- Forward-facing seats
- Booster seats
- Car beds
- Built-in car seats
- Travel vests
Rear-Facing Baby Car Seats
A rear-facing seat is one in which your child faces the back of the vehicle. The seat should be installed in the back seat of your vehicle. The two types of rear-facing seats are the infant-only seat and the convertible seat.
Infant-Only Rear-Facing Car Seats: These seats are for babies who weigh up to 22 to 30 pounds (10 to 13.5 kilograms), depending on the car seat. You will need a new seat when your child gets bigger. Many children grow out of these seats by age 8 to 9 months. Infant-only seats have handles so you can carry the seat to and from the car. Some have a base you can leave installed in the car. This lets you click the car seat into place each time you use it. Follow manufacturer's instructions on how the seat should be reclined so your baby's head does not shift around while you are driving.
Convertible Car Seats: These seats are to be placed in the rear-facing position and are for infants and toddlers. When your child is older and bigger, the seat can be switched to the forward-facing position. Experts recommend keeping your child rear-facing until at least age 3 and until your child outgrows the weight or height allowed by the seat.
Forward-Facing Baby Car Seats
A forward-facing seat should be installed on the back seat of your vehicle, although it allows your child to face the front of the car. These seats are used only after your child is too big for a rear-facing seat.
A combination forward-facing booster seat may also be used. For younger children, the booster seat's harness straps should be used. After your child reaches the upper height and weight limit for the harness (based on the seat's instructions), the vehicle's own lap and shoulder belts can be used to keep your child strapped in.
Booster Baby Car Seats
A booster seat raises your child up so the vehicle's own lap and shoulder belts fit correctly. The lap belt should fall across your child's upper thighs. The shoulder belt should go across the middle of your child's shoulder and chest.
Use booster seats for older children until they are big enough to fit into a seat belt properly. The lap belt should fit low and tight across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should fit snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. A child's legs must be long enough so the feet can be flat on the floor. Most children can wear a seatbelt sometime between ages 8 and 12 years.
Baby Car Beds
These seats are also called flat car seats. They are used for premature or other special-needs babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having a health care provider look at how your preterm baby fits and breathes in a car seat before leaving the hospital.
Built-In Baby Car Seats
Some vehicles have built-in car seats. Weight and height limits vary. You can get more details on these seats by reading the vehicle owner's manual or calling the vehicle manufacturer.
Travel Vests For Children
Special vests can be worn by older children who have outgrown forward-facing safety seats. The vests can be used instead of booster seats. The vests are used with the vehicle's lap and seat belts. As with car seats, children should be sitting in the back seat when using the vest.
Forward-Facing Car Seats
Always read the vehicle owner's manual and the car seat manual before installing the seat. Any child, such as toddler or preschooler, who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for his convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by his car seat manufacturer.
It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to 4 years of age. If your child outgrows a seat before reaching 4 years of age, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.
Forward-Facing Car Seat Restraints
The following are the four types of forward-facing car seat safety restraints:
- Convertible Seats: Seats can convert from rear-facing to forward-facing. These include 3-in-1 seats.
- Combination Seats With harness: Seats can be used forward facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 90 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 80–120 pounds, depending on the model).
- Built-In Forward Seats: Some vehicles come with built-in forward-facing seats. Weight and height limits vary. However, do not use built-in seats until your child is at least 2 years of age. Read your vehicle owner's manual for details about how to use these seats.
- Travel vests: Vests can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and can be an option to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear, for children with certain special needs, or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by car seats. These vests may require use of a top tether.
Tips For Installation Of Forward-Facing Seats
Always read the vehicle owner's manual and the car seat manual before installing the baby car seat. It is important that the car seat is installed tightly in the vehicle and that the harness fits your child snugly.
Tips For switching A Rare-Facing Convertible or 3-in-1 Seat To Forward-Facing
- Move the shoulder straps to the slots that are at or above your child's shoulders, or position at or closest to (above or below, based on rear or forward facing) the child's shoulders. Check the instructions that came with the seat to be sure you are positioning the shoulder straps correctly. You may have to adjust the recline angle of the seat so that it sits more upright in your vehicle. Check the instructions to be sure.
- If using a seat belt, make sure it runs through the forward-facing belt path (be sure to follow car safety seat instructions) and that the seat belt is locked and tightened.
- If using the lower anchors, make sure that the weight of your child plus the weight of the seat does not exceed 65 pounds. Most seats now state the maximum child weight to use the anchors in the manual and on the stickers on the side. If the child weighs too much, families must use the seat belt to install.
- Always use the top tether when you can. A tether is a strap that is attached to the top part of a car safety seat and holds the seat tightly by connecting to an anchor point in your vehicle (often on the seat back or rear shelf; see your vehicle owner's manual to find where tether anchors are in your vehicle). Tethers give important extra protection by keeping the car safety seat and your child's head from moving too far forward in a crash or sudden stop. All new cars, minivans, and light trucks are required to have tether anchors as of September 2000. Forward-facing seats come with tether straps. A tether should always be used as long as your child has not reached the top weight limit for the tether anchor.
- Check the car safety seat instructions and vehicle owner's manual for information about the top weight limit and locations of tether anchors.