Thousands of infants are injured, or even killed each year in car crashes. This is the leading cause of death for children in the past couple of years. Car seats play a big role when it comes to keeping children safe. However, many different regulations, laws, and guidelines make it really hard for parents to choose the right car seat for their child. This is why you should put enough time in learning how to properly install a one safely even before your baby is even born.
Your child’s size and age will be the most important factors once you start looking for a car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics has different recommendations for families so consider everything when you’re buying your first car seat.
Types of Car Seats
The car seats are usually made with a certain age group in mind. According to age group, car seats can be made for toddlers and infants, toddlers and preschoolers, school-aged children, and older children. The type of a car seat will be different for every age group, and here is an explanation of what seats are suitable for each age group. Follow these rules to maintain car seat safety and the safety of your children.
Toddlers and infants:
- Rear-facing car seats
- Rear-facing convertible car seats
Rear-facing seats are specifically designed for toddlers and infants, and new regulations suggest that kids this young should stay in this type of a car seat until their height or weight exceeds the limit that car manufacturer listed in the car seat guidelines. Convertible seats are usually designed to allow children to use them for more than two years.
Preschoolers and toddlers:
- Forward-facing car seats with a harness
- Forward-facing convertible car seats
Those kids who outgrown the toddlers and infants age group should use this type of seats (especially with harness) for as long as possible. They should proceed to the next type of a car seat only when their height or weight exceeds the limit of the seat. Usually, this type of seat is able to accommodate kids up to 65 pounds.
- Booster seats
If your kid’s height or weight exceeded the limit of the forward-facing car seat consider switching to a booster seat until the seat belt in your vehicle is able to fit them properly. This will usually happen between the ages of 8 and 12. As you already know, children that don’t have at least 13 years should always ride in the back seat.
- Seat belts
Your kids should use lap and shoulder seat belts if they are large enough and old enough for the vehicle seat belt. This kind of protection is the best option you have once your kids grow out of a car seat. As already mentioned, if your child is not 13, don’t put it in the front seat.
Car Seat Installation for Infants and Toddlers
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all newborns should stay in the rear-facing car seat as long as they don’t reach its limit. Their first ride in such a car seat should be from the hospital to home. The kids are allowed to switch to a bigger car seat only when they reach the height or weight limit according to the infant car seat safety manual. Convertible seats are designed to allow children to ride rear-facing even after they turn 2. Once the rear-facing car seat is outgrown, the convertible rear-facing seat should be installed.
If you’re not sure about the car seat guidelines, you can always ask a professional to help you with the installation. This way, you will probably get things done faster, and you won’t have to worry about making any mistakes.
There are three main types of rear-facing seats”
Once your kid outgrows its rear-facing-only seat, you should consider buying a 3-in-1 or a convertible seat.
The harness of the seat should be in a slot that is below the shoulders of your child.
Make sure that the harness is properly tightened. You shouldn’t be able to put a finger between a harness and your child’s shoulder if you do everything properly. Also, pay attention to the chest clip, it should be at your child’s chest.
The car seat should be installed tightly with either a locked seat belt or LATCH. Consider that the car seat is not installed correctly if you’re able to move it front to back or side to side more than an inch.
A rear-facing seat should never be in the front seat of a vehicle. In the case of an accident, the airbag in your car will pop up and hit the back of the front car seat. This is where your child will be and the force could cause threating injuries or even death.
Always make sure that your child’s head is set at the correct angle so it doesn’t flop forward. Refer to the car seat guidelines to find the correct angle for the particular seat you’re using. You should also be able to find the right angle there.
Car Seat Installation for Preschoolers and Toddlers
Before you start with any installation, you should refer to the car seat guidelines and the vehicle manufacturer’s manual. If your child has outgrown the rear-facing car seat, make sure you start using a forward-facing seat with a harness. Your child should get used to it pretty quickly, and they should keep using this type of a seat for as long as possible (according to the user manual). Usually, a seat with a harness will be used until a child turns 4. However, if your child gets too big for this seat, you should consider using a harness seat with a higher height and weight limits.
There are four main types of forward-facing car seats:
- Convertible car seats
- Harness car seats
- Built-in car seats
- Travel vests
You should always read the car seat manual to maintain the highest possible car seat safety. The most important things you should make sure of are that the harness fits your child tightly and that the car seat is installed properly.
The shoulder straps should be positioned correctly (above or just at your child’s shoulders). Refer to the car seat guidelines to get a better understanding. Also, you are probably going to need to adjust the seat’s recline angle in order to make it sit more upright in your vehicle. The instruction manual will be useful here too.
If you’re using a seat belt you have to run it through the belt path of the forward-facing car seat. Make sure that the seat belt is tightened and locked properly.
Make sure that the weight of the seat and the weight of your child do not exceed 65 pounds if you are using the lower anchors. The stickers on the side of a car seat and the manual usually state the maximum child weight in order to use the anchors. You will have to use the seat belt to install if your child weighs too much.
The top tether is also something you should use whenever you can. Basically, a tether is a strap that connects to an anchor point in your vehicle. This attaches the top part of a car seat and holds it tightly. Tether anchors might be located in different spots, so refer to the user manual of your car seat. Tethers are important since they keep your child’s head moving too far away from the car seat. This will decrease the risk of getting spine and neck injuries in the case of a crash. As of September 2000, all cars, light trucks, and minivans are required to have tether anchors.
Car Seat Installation for School-aged Children
As already mentioned above, those children who outgrow their forward-facing seats should start using booster seats. Usually, this will happen between the ages of 8 and 12. In addition, kids are usually unable to fit in a seat belt of a vehicle until they turn 10 or even 11 in some cases. This is why a booster seat comes as a “practice” tool. All kids that still don’t have at least 13 years shouldn’t ride in the front seat of a vehicle.
You will know that your child has outgrown a forward-facing car seat if any of this is happening:
- The harness slots of the car seat are below the shoulders of your child
- Your child’s ears have reached the top of the car seat
- Your child’s height or weight exceeds the limits of the car seat with a harness ( according to the instruction manual)
There are two standard types when it comes to booster seats:
- Backless car seats
- High-back car seats
Both of these types are designed with an idea to lift your kid high enough to ensure that the seat belts fit correctly. Of course, both of them will considerably reduce the risk of an injury in a crash. It’s recommended to use high-back boosters in a vehicle with low seat backs or without headrests. Also, don’t mistake high-back boosters for combination seats since they are very similar. High-back boosters usually come with harnesses for small children, but you can remove them and keep using the seat even after your child outgrows it. Backless boosters are designed for vehicles with high seatbacks and headrests.
Usually, this type of seats does not include harness straps. In contrast, they use shoulder and lap seat belts in your vehicle, the same way you would use them as an adult. The main idea behind this is to place the seat belts over the strongest part of your kid’s body, providing more protection in the case of a crash.
To maintain a car seat safety, make sure you refer to the car seat manual and the vehicle owner’s manual before you install the seat. Booster seats usually have a guide or a plastic clip that will help you to position shoulder belts and vehicle lap correctly. Booster seats have to be used with a shoulder and lap belt, so you have to make sure that:
- The lap belt is tightly located across your kid’s upper thighs
- The shoulder belt is off the neck and that it crosses the middle of our kid’s chest and shoulder
Car Seat Installation for Older Children
Seat belts are designed especially for adults. As already mentioned, your child should stay in a booster seat until the seat belts in your car fit them perfectly. This will usually happen between the ages of 8 and 12. Once your child gets big and old enough for a seat belt in your vehicle, you should teach them how to correctly use shoulder and lap seat belts in order to provide the best possible protection for them. Of course, your children should stay in the back seat until they turn at least 13 years.
You will know that an adult seat belt fits your child when:
- Your kid is tall enough to bend over its knees over the edge of the seat without moving from the vehicle back seat and if it can comfortably travel in this position.
- The lap belt is tightened across the thighs of your child instead of the belly.
- The shoulder belt is located at the shoulder of your child and across its chest instead of at the throat or neck.
Always double-check if your child is properly seated and protected. The last thing you want to happen is to allow your child to tuck the shoulder belt behind its back or under its arm. Some children don’t like belts and will try to get rid of them if they can. You don’t want to let this happen because it will leave the upper body of your child unprotected and the whole seat belt system will be in a worse position. In the case of a crash, your child will suffer threating injuries. If your child is not properly using the belts you can put it in danger even if you brake suddenly.
If you have more kids, don’t allow them to share seat belts. All of them should have their own car seat and their own seat belts.
Don’t use the products advertised as “seat belt enhancers”. Some cases report that these products might interfere with a regular seat belt by making the shoulder belt too loose or causing the lap belt to get too high on the belly. Also, these products might even damage the regular seat belt. In addition, don’t use any similar product for your car seat either unless you’ve got that part with the seat or if the seat manufacturer specifically approves it. The American Academy of Pediatrics is not recommending the usage of these products, so you shouldn’t do differently. There are no additional devices that will increase the safety of your child if it is riding in the correct restraint for its size.
Types of Car Seats You Shouldn’t Use
Here are some general rules you should follow in order to avoid using the wrong car seat.
- Never use a car seat that’s too old. Check the label for the date when the seat was made, then check with the manufacturer to find out if it is still safe to use the seat.
- Never use a car seat for your child if the car seat has visible cracks on it.
- If a car seat you intend to use doesn’t have a model number and the date of manufacture, consider using a different seat. You can’t check if the seat has been recalled without this information.
- A car seat that you definitely don’t want to use is the one that has missing parts. If you plan to use a car seat that’s already been used, there’s a great chance that a lot of important parts are missing.
- Call the manufacturer to check if the seat was ever recalled. If the answer is yes, don’t use it.
Baby Planet Overview
Using car seats is necessary when you have kids. That’s why you have to know the different types of car seats that are available for you to choose from. Also, the installation process is quite easy for every seat, but if you’re not 100% how to do everything properly, you should ask for professional help. Make sure to understand what type of a car seat is suitable for your child by checking the car seat manual.
Don’t rush your kid to a new car seat if its height or weight is still in the limit range of the car seat your kid currently uses. Make sure a harness or a seat belt is properly tightened before you start driving, and more importantly, drive safe. Don’t put yourself in a situation to see for yourself why car seats are made for, consider them prevention!
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- Car seat safety, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov