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Get the latest car seat news here: recalls, conference updates and other child passenger safety current events.

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Did you know . . .?

You can teach a child to stop unbuckling a harness with gentle discipline. Plan a trip to a child's favorite destination. When the child starts to unbuckle, safely pull off the road and turn the vehicle off. In a firm voice, tell the child that the vehicle won't start until everyone is safely buckled. It may take 1/2 hour to go that 1/2 mile down the road, but if you're consistent, the child will learn you mean business.

Quick FAQs

General Questions

Selecting a Seat

Installation

Rear-Facing Seats

Forward-Facing Seats

Booster Seats


General Questions

How tight does the harness need to be on my child?

Harnesses should fit snugly to provide the best protection. What is snug? There are 2 tests. The first is a pinch test. Buckle up baby and tighten the harness. Pinch a harness strap north to south, near the shoulder (there's usually more slack over the belly, so that's why you check near the shoulders). If you can pinch it, the harness isn't tight enough. The second test is a finger test. You should be able to fit only one finger under the strap at the shoulder. The finger test is considered outdated because a variety of factors can influence its accuracy including finger size, what the child is wearing, harness strap pads, etc. Really, kids feel more secure when snug as a hug!  Click here to learn more about correct harness use.  (Source: SBS USA)


Which harness slots should I use?

Rear-facing seats: at or below shoulders (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org)

Forward-facing seats: at or above shoulders; a very few seats require use of the top slots (read the harness use section in the manual). Click here to see a seat where the wrong slots were used. Click here to learn more about correct harness use. (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org)


How should I clean the harness straps?

Soaking the straps will remove the chemicals that make the harness fire resistant. The water won’t damage the fibers. Using detergent on the straps can weaken the harness fibers. Also, putting them in the washing machine can stretch the fibers if they get caught around the agitator. Never iron the straps to try to flatten them or use any other chemicals such as Febreeze, a fabric softener, bleach, starch, etc. Remember that vinegar is an acid and can adversely affect the safety of the straps, even if it is considered a gentle cleaner for use in your house. If in doubt about how to care for the harness, use a damp wash cloth and wipe it down. A toothbrush is great for getting in the little crevices of the straps. Each carseat manual will have instructions in the last few pages telling you how to clean the straps. Caution: some harness straps cannot be removed from the carseat, so it's essential to treat them carefully. You may not be able to order a replacement set if they are ruined. (Source: Professional CPS Discussion Board, Various Child Restraint Manuals)


What does the chest clip do?

The chest clip, the plastic piece on the harness above the buckle, provides pre-crash positioning for the harness. It keeps the harness in the proper location on the shoulders for maximum protection. It must be positioned at armpit level to provide this protection.  (Source: SBS USA)


What is EPS foam? What is EPP foam?

EPS foam, Expanded Polystyrene foam, is the foam used in bicycle helmets and picnic coolers. It is a safety device added to some carseats to protect a child's head and upper torso from impact forces by absorbing those forces.  It crushes, has almost no rebound to it and is considered to be a one-impact material (Have you ever put too much ice into a styrofoam picnic cooler or broken a piece of packing styrofoam? It breaks very easily.).  EPS foam is what is most commonly used in child safety seats.  EPP foam, Expanded Polypropylene foam, is similar to EPS foam, but has a more elastic nature. Many manufacturers are moving toward using EPP foam in their carseats because of the resiliency of EPP foam; it doesn't break as easily in day-to-day usage and tends to hold up better for consumers.


My child doesn't fit as well in the carseat with her winter coat on. Do I need a new seat?

No, take the coat off.  A fluffy winter coat will introduce slack into the harness in a crash, which could lead to ejection for the child (see the "Coats in Car Seats" section on the Correct Harness Use page.  The fluff in the coat will compress greatly, creating "dead space."  There are many polar fleece coats on the market now that are thin enough to use under a harness, yet can keep a child very warm.  Land's End and LL Bean sell very warm polar fleece jackets that are relatively thin.  The North Face Moondoggy and Perrito coats have been tried by techs in cold, northern climates and suggested as good for carseat use. Also, consider putting the child into the carseat, then putting the coat on backwards after she's buckled in.  Or try heating a bag of rice in the microwave for a minute or so, then putting it in the carseat for a minute to warm it up.  Remove it and put the child into the seat.  A Car Seat Poncho is also a nice alternative and stays on the child without getting between the child and the harness. Infant seats can be covered by shower cap-style fleece covers as long as there's no padding placed behind the child in the seat as a part of the cover. This review shows the difference between using an infant seat cover with a panel behind the baby's back and a shower cap-style fleece cover. Always keep extra heavy blankets in the car for everyone.  (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org, good fit in that position.


Many states now have booster seat laws requiring booster seats for children over age 4 and 40 lbs. It is NOT safe to use a booster seat with a lap-only belt. The booster seat may correctly position the lap-only belt over the hips, but because it boosts the child up higher, the child's head excursion (how far the head comes away from the back of the seat) will be greatly increased. E-Z-On Products and Safe Traffic System Inc. make harnesses that provide upper body restraint for use with lap-only belts. The 86-Y harness may also be used with the Ride Ryte booster seat available at E-Z-On Products. If you cannot use an E-Z-On harness or other harnessed restraint with a lap-only belt, it is safer to use the lap-only belt by itself without a booster seat. Also, check with your vehicle manufacturer to see if shoulder belts can be retrofitted in outboard positions (if you don't have them already available in those positions). Unfortunately, shoulder belts cannot be retrofitted for center seating positions. (Source: CPSafety.com, Car-Safety.org)


My car was hit yesterday in the parking lot. Do I need to replace the carseat?

NHTSA has developed a list of guidelines regarding replacing seats after a crash: NHTSA policy on child restraint re-use. If you are unsure if the seat is safe to use, replace the seat. The insurance company of the person at fault should pay for the new seat. Call the manufacturer of the carseat; some manufacturers may send you another seat for free at their discretion. Also, your car or house insurance may cover the seat; in California, this is mandatory coverage if the seat was occupied. If you're still unsure if you should replace the seat, get a new one. It's better to be safe than sorry and carseats are far cheaper than a hospital or funeral home bill if the seat fails in the future because of the collision. Also look into getting your seat belts replaced, since they, too, will have been stressed from the impact. (Source: SBS USA)


I'm using the same carseat for my 7 month old that my 8 year old son used. I was told this isn't safe. Is that true?

It is recommended that carseats older than 5 or 6 years be replaced. Look for a sticker or stamp in the plastic on the carseat that tells you when it expires or when you should no longer use it or look in the manual; some combination carseats have multiple expiration dates based on which portion of the seat you are using. carseats 10 years or older should never be used. Why? Older seats tend to have a lot of recalls on them of which you may not be aware. Replacement parts may be unavailable. Plastic and other parts of the seat wear down and may break. Some of this wear may not be noticeable to you. Also, technology has greatly improved the safety of newer seats and it will continue to do so. You should destroy the old seat as best you can by cutting up the straps and throwing away the shell of the seat in a black plastic bag. (Source: SBS USA)


The sun is in my baby's eyes. What can I use to shield her face?

Sun shades that stick to the window with suction cups can become projectiles in a crash. They are not recommended, especially the roller shade type. Tinting your windows may be the best solution, but it can cost more than you're willing to spend. Diono and Dorel make a vinyl tint cling that adheres to a window using static cling or you can check in the automotive section of a department store.


Can I use a body support for my baby?

No, not if it didn't come in the box with the carseat from the manufacturer; some carseats come with head supports and these carseats have been crash tested with these supports. Body supports and head and neck rolls, known as non-regulated products, are generally well-padded and used under a baby. These items can compress in a crash and leave the harness too loose on the child. A too-loose harness can lead to ejection and serious injury or death for a child. If your child needs support, buckle him into the seat first, then add rolled receiving blankets around his head and sides of his body. Nothing, except light clothing, should come between the baby, the harness and the carseat. On the other hand, if your carseat came with support padding and you'd like to remove it, you may at any time unless there are weight requirements attached to the padding. (Source: CPSafety.com, Car-Safety.org)


Is it safe to . . . ?

When this question is asked, the answer is generally "No" because it usually means you are asking about modifying the carseat or installation of the carseat in some manner that goes against manufacturer instructions. If you find yourself asking this question, consult your carseat manual or call the manufacturer.


Where can I find out about the laws in my state?

There are several web sites that list current state laws. You can find a link to them here.


Please remember that the laws of physics are much harsher than any state laws and many state laws are just plain laughable. It is safest to keep your child in a size-appropriate carseat for as long as possible.


What is a Child Passenger Safety Technician?

A Child Passenger Safety Technician is a person who has taken the NHTSA/Safe Kids-sponsored 3-4 day class on child passenger safety. This class teaches us all about seat belt types, crash dynamics and carseats, as well as carseat selection. A mandatory car seat checkup event is also scheduled as a part of the class. A CPS Tech must renew his/her certification every two years by obtaining continuing education units (CEUs) and participating in checkup events. Many times a CPS Tech will allow his certification to lapse, but he will continue to install seats and instruct parents. This is a dangerous practice, since an uncertified tech is not likely to be current on child passenger safety issues and it raises liability issues. Always ask if the tech helping you is current on his/her certification; a good tech will not take offense at the question at all.


Where can I find someone to check the installation of my carseat?

Look up a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician on the Safe Kids web site.

Look for a carseat checkup event here or contact your local Safe Kids coalition for their next free event: www.usa.safekids.org.


What should I take when I have the installation of my carseat checked?

Take your carseat instruction manual, your vehicle instruction manual and your child. Not every tech is familiar with every carseat and vehicle, so it's wise to have manuals available. Also, we like to see how your child fits in the seat and how you buckle him/her into it. Our job is to educate you on how to use the seat properly and it's much easier to do that when the child is present. You may want to make sure you have a stroller or another adult available so you can safely put your child down while talking to the technician.

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Selecting a Seat


What type of seat is best for my child?

A newborn can use either an infant seat or a rear-facing convertible seat. Some convertible seats, though, don't have harness slots low enough to fit a tiny baby well, so an infant seat may be a better selection. After an infant seat is outgrown, the next step is a rear-facing convertible. It's safest to use rear-facing convertible seats to their limits, but to at least age 2 at the very minimum.

After a rear-facing carseat, a forward-facing carseat is the next step. Either the convertible is turned forward, or a dedicated forward-facing seat (such as a combination harness/booster seat) is used to its limits. If the child is too young/immature, a higher weight harness seat can be used. A child should remain harnessed to at least age 4.

The next step is a belt positioning booster seat. Some studies have shown that using a high back booster with head wings protect a child better in a side impact crash than using a backless booster. A booster should be used until the 5-Step Test can be passed. Notice there's no minimum age at which a child can come out of a booster. Seat belt fit trumps age when it comes to when a child should be allowed to not ride in a booster anymore. The 5-Step Test is the most accurate way to measure seat belt fit.


What is the best carseat?

While we typically think the "best" carseat is the most expensive one, it's really the one that:

  • Fits your car. You want to look for a seat that moves less than 1" when you tug on it at the belt path after it's installed. It's best to try before you buy if you can.
  • Fits your child. One seat may fit your child better than another. S/he may also have preferences regarding what is comfortable.
  • You can use correctly each and every ride. Look for features that are easy for you to use when the seat is installed in your vehicle. For instance, some harness adjusters work very differently when the carseat is installed in the vehicle versus just sitting on a store shelf.

You also need to find a carseat that will fit your budget. Sometimes that means the most expensive model, sometimes it means the least expensive model. The more expensive models do tend to have more user friendly features, but many expensive models cost more because of their covers (for example, the Cosco Alpha Omega 3-in-1 and Cosco Eddie Bauer 3-in-1 are the same seat, but there's a $20 price difference between the two--they used to sell a leather cover for $170 more). Click here to see a list of what to look for in a car seat. Click here to see a list of seats that parents often recommend to each other. (Source: SBS USA)


Should I use a seat with a 5-point harness or a shield?

Fortunately, this is becoming less and less of a problem because shield seats are no longer being sold. The last overhead shield seat was made in 2009 and expires in 2015. When used properly every time, 5-point harnesses give your child the best protection. T-shields should be immediately destroyed and thrown away in a black plastic bag. Overhead shields get in the way of chubby tummies, chubby thighs, and heads in a collision. It's like using the dashboard as a restraint. At least one death has been attributed to an overhead shield-type carseat. If it's financially possible, replace the overhead shield carseat with a 5-point harness carseat. If not, make sure the harness is tightened snugly on the child and the shield is moved as closely to the child as possible if it is adjustable. (Source: SBS USA, CPSafety.com)

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Installation


This carseat manual is so confusing and yet I'm supposed to read it! I'm so frustrated!

A carseat manual can be confusing with all of its warnings and cautions. Throw in all the sections on how to install the seat and most parents just toss the manual aside and "wing it." The carseat manual, however, gives you vital information. For instance, some car seats must have a certain amount of space between the carseat and the front seats; some may use a tether rear-facing, while most can't; some boosters allow the use of LATCH while in booster mode, while many don't—all of this vital information is contained in the carseat manual. How do you decode a carseat manual?

First, read all the warnings at the beginning of the manual. Next, read how your child should fit in the seat. If your child is rear-facing, read how the straps should be positioned for your carseat and adjust the straps. Do the same if your child is forward-facing. Now move onto the sections for installation. Each installation section is broken down into parts depending on how you choose to install your carseat. If you will be installing the seat rear-facing using LATCH, turn to that section. There are also sections for installing a rear-facing seat using a lap-only seat belt and a lap/shoulder seat belt. It's just a matter of choosing the method that you'll be using and reading up on it. The forward-facing section is also set up in this manner. Even though a convertible carseat manual is referred to in this example, all manuals are set up in the same manner (except for belt-positioning booster seats). The final pages in the manual cover how to clean the seat and order parts. Don't forget to put the manual in a safe place so you won't lose it and can refer back to it as your child grows. Also, many manufacturers now have their manuals online. (Also see: CarseatBlog.com)


What is a noodle?

A noodle is a styrofoam pool flotation toy. It looks like a brightly colored, 4' long cigarette and is cut to the width of the carseat and used under the foot of a rear-facing carseat to help achieve a correct recline angle. You can use as many as you need, but usually up to 3 in a pyramid shape under the carseat are the most needed. Nothing should be placed under a forward-facing seat. A piece of single layer rubber shelf liner is OK on slippery auto seats, but is very rarely used anymore. The carseat manual will provide guidance on what vehicle seat protectors may or may not be allowed. (Source: SBS USA)


What is LATCH?

Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren is a system for installing a carseat. It is also known as ISOFIX or UAS outside of the U.S.. LATCH typically consists of 2 parts: a belt with hooks on the ends that is used in place of the vehicle's seat belts and the upper tether:


The LATCH belt goes through the appropriate belt path (rear-facing belt path for rear-facing seats, forward-facing belt path for forward-facing seats) on the carseat and the hooks connect to lower LATCH anchors in the vehicle. On carseats manufactured after September 1, 2002, this belt is permanently mounted to the carseat and should not be removed. When referring to LATCH, child passenger safety technicians usually are talking about the lower anchors and connectors. The LATCH anchors in the vehicle are found in the back seat bight (the bight is the crack between the bottom seat cushion and the back cushion), usually in outboard positions; some vehicles have a back seat large enough to have LATCH anchors in all three seating positions. Your vehicle manual will state explicitly whether you may use the lower anchors in the center back seat position: if it's not stated, it's not allowed. The carseat manual must also allow LATCH use in the center position; again, if it's not stated in the manual, it's not allowed and you must use the vehicle belt instead. Lower anchors are required in all model year 2003 and later vehicles with some MY '01-'02 vehicles having lower anchors as well. All carseats (belt-positioning booster seats, car beds and vests are exempted) must be LATCH-compatible, though they may still use the vehicle's seat belt to be installed in non-LATCH vehicles. Check your vehicle owner's manual under the child restraint section to see if your vehicle is equipped with LATCH. The LATCH positions may also be marked with this symbol:


Another less common type of LATCH connection, called a rigid LATCH connector (used on the Clek brand restraints, some Baby Trend brand restraints, and the discontinued Cybex Solution X-fix), is a stiff bar on the carseat that snaps onto the LATCH anchors in the vehicle. The rigid LATCH connector is used in place of the belt with hooks and usually raises the cost of the carseat.

LATCH is designed to make it easier for parents and caregivers to install a carseat, but it does not make it foolproof or safer than using the vehicle's seat belt. Misuse of LATCH is occurring and there may still be compatibility problems between the carseat and the vehicle. The carseat must still be tightened down so that it moves less than 1" when you tug on it at the belt path. If you try using LATCH and the seat isn't installing tightly, try using the vehicle's seat belt instead. Do not use both the LATCH anchors and the vehicle seat belt to install the carseat. If you still can't get the seat installed correctly, you need a different carseat. For more information on LATCH, click here. For help installing a seat using LATCH, click here. (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org)

Some children whose carseats were installed with LATCH were able to play with the loose hanging seat belt and strangle themselves. It's recommended that the seat belt be buckled behind the installed carseat so that it's out of the reach of playful hands and feet.


What is a tether?

A tether is a long piece of seat belt material that has a clip on the end. It is located at the top back of carseats. The tether is used to secure the top of the carseat when in the forward-facing position to help keep head excursion to a minimum. Head excursion is how far a child's head will come forward from the carseat in a crash. While not necessary to use, a tether is another piece of safety equipment and should be used if at all possible. New vehicles have tether anchors already installed and most vehicles made since 1989 can have tether anchors retrofitted. The tether positions may be marked with this symbol:


Many tether anchor retrofits are easy do-it-yourself projects and instructions are often in your vehicle manual. Call your vehicle manufacturer's 800 number to get more information. If you own a Toyota, click here to see instructions for installing tether anchors. Only Britax, Diono (Sunshine Kids) Radian, and Combi Coccoro carseats have tethers that may be used rear-facing as well. (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org)


I've been hearing a lot lately about LATCH and tether anchor weight limits. What do I need to know?

Lower LATCH anchors may have weight limits of either 40 lbs. or 48 lbs.—check your vehicle owner’s manual or phone the manufacturer directly. Some vehicle manufacturers defer to the child restraint manufacturer for the weight limit on their LATCH anchors, meaning that you can use their lower anchors to the LATCH weight limit provided in the carseat manual. If the weight limit isn’t specified and you’re using a carseat with a higher harness weight than 40 lbs., err on the side of caution and discontinue the use of LATCH. Reinstall the carseat with the seat belt. Top tether anchors have weight limits of 40 lbs. or 48 lbs. generally—check your vehicle owner’s manual. Unlike lower LATCH anchors, the top tether anchor is a supplemental anchorage and you should continue to use it if you have a higher harness weight seat. The top tether isn’t a main weight-bearing attachment, so using it past the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended weight limit isn’t as dangerous as using the lower LATCH anchors past their weight limits. If you are in a crash and using the tether anchor past its upper weight limit (e.g., with a higher weight limit harnessed seat), and if it does fail, it’s likely that it will only deform. It will have done it’s job of slowing down the child’s head in the first split seconds of the crash before deforming. Stop using the top tether if you are changing your combination seat to a belt positioning booster unless the directions specify otherwise.

If you have a Diono (Sunshine Kids) Radian convertible seat with SuperLATCH, you may want to read this blog entry regarding lower LATCH anchor weight limits and using SuperLATCH.


Do I need to use the metal locking clip?

It depends. A locking clip, which is an H-shaped piece of metal, is used to lock a lap/shoulder seat belt to keep the carseat from moving. All vehicles made since 1996 have other methods of locking their seat belts, but sometimes it is preferable to use a locking clip, as in the case of a rear-facing seat that tips to one side when the seat belt is locked. Never use a locking clip with a lap-only belt. Click here for more information on locking clips. (Source: SBS USA, Safe Kids USA)


How tight is "tight enough" when installing a carseat?

A properly installed carseat will move less than 1" when you tug on it at the belt path. The vehicle's seat belts must be locked, either by their own locking mechanism or by using a locking clip. A rear-facing seat will be able to be pushed toward the back of the car if you push at the head of the seat. This is normal movement (see next question). Click here for more installation help. (Source: SBS USA, Safe Kids USA)


My rear-facing carseat can be pushed up toward the back of the car. This scares me. What can I do to stop this movement?

This movement is normal for a rear-facing carseat and is called rebounding (sometimes also called "cocooning"). In a frontal crash, the carseat will first travel down and toward the front of the vehicle. It will then rebound into the back seat before coming to a stop. There is some concern that a child can sustain facial, head and neck injuries by this movement, but these injuries are much less severe than we would see on a child who is turned forward-facing too early (before age 2 AND 30 lbs. minimum). Any injury from rebounding would also likely occur from a severe crash. Some carseats are available with anti-rebounding devices, such as a tether that can be used rear-facing (Britax and Sunshine Kids seats), an anti-rebound bar (the First Years True Fit Premier and Maxi-Cosi Prezi), or a base designed to not rebound (the Cybex Aton and the Chicco KeyFit). As with any carseat, a properly installed carseat will lessen chances of injury: check for less than 1" of movement when you tug on it at the belt path. The vehicle's seat belts must be locked, either by its own locking mechanism, by using a locking clip, or by using the carseat's built-in lockoff. Click here for more installation help. (Source: SBS USA)


What is the safest location for the carseat in my car?

The best location for your carseat is in the middle of the back seat. If you can't get a great fit there (moves less than 1" when you tug at the belt path), then the safest place is an outboard position, assuming you can get a great fit there. If you can't get a great fit with your seat, get a new one that will be more compatible with your car (visit the Car-Seat.org forums to inquire about what may work with your vehicle). Never, ever put a rear-facing carseat in the front seat if there's an airbag. (Source: SBS USA, Safe Kids USA)


We're having our 2nd child soon. Where should I put her rear-facing car seat?  Where should I put my son's forward-facing carseat?

A rear-facing carseat provides greater protection against frontal and side impact crashes than a forward-facing carseat. When deciding which seat to place in the center position of the back seat and which to place in the outboard position, place the seat that provides the most protection in the outboard position (the rear-facing seat). Why does a rear-facing seat provide so much protection? It rotates toward the point of impact: the back of the carseat will be between the child and the impact. In a forward-facing seat, the child rotates out of the seat toward the impact, so we like to see them in the position farthest from any impact point. If your seats won't fit closely together or your children can't be close together and you have to put both seats outboard, keep in mind that a properly restrained forward-facing child is still very well protected by the car seat. (Source: SBS USA)


Can I use the Mighty Tite to install a carseat?

It is not recommended that you use the Mighty Tite. The law governing carseat safety, FMVSS 213, does not cover non-regulated products like the Mighty Tite. The carseat and/or the vehicle seat belt may be damaged by this device. Some manufacturers even forbid the use of this device with their carseats. Click here for more information. (Source: SBS USA, CPSafety.com)

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Rear-Facing Seats


When can I turn my baby forward-facing?

After age 2 at the bare minimum according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP has finally departed from its long worn-out advice of turning babies forward at age 1 and 20 lbs. and its policy is now to keep children rear-facing to age 2 or the weight or height limits of the child's convertible carseat. A carseat that faces the rear of the car provides the most protection in a crash. Best practice is to keep a child rear-facing past age 2 AND until the weight limit is reached or until the child's head reaches within 1" of the top of the carseat. Numerous studies have shown that children's neck BONES don't begin to ossify, or harden, until well after they are 1 year old (1 year adjusted age for preemies). Until that time, they risk severe spinal injuries that will last a lifetime if they are forward-facing in a collision. One study found that children under age 2 are at least 4 times more likely to be injured in side impact crashes (click here). Click here to read more about why it's so important to keep babies rear-facing. (Source: SBS USA, American Academy of Pediatrics, CPSafety.com, CarseatBlog.com, Car-Safety.org, Crash Protection for Child Passengers, NHTSA, Safe Kids USA)


My baby's legs touch the back seat. Is this safe?

It is just fine. There have not been any documented cases of children breaking their legs in crashes simply because their legs touched the back seat while they were rear-facing. There have been many documented cases of children breaking their necks in crashes because they were turned forward-facing too early. There have been anecdotal instances where children have broken legs in severe crashes, but it's also quite possible that severe spinal injuries could have occured in those crashes. Leg injuries heal, spinal injuries don't. In a frontal collision, the legs will fly up and away from the back seat. Click here for more information. (Source: Car-Safety.org, SBS USA, CPSafety.com)


My 5 month old is 20 lbs. I've read I should turn him forward once he reaches that weight. Is this safe?

No. Read above about when to turn a baby forward-facing. Look for a convertible carseat that can accommodate children to 40 lbs. or higher. Newer convertible seats are now rear-facing to 40 lbs. and higher, though there are some that still rear-face to 35 lbs. See the Recommended Car Seats page. (Source: SBS USA, American Academy of Pediatrics, CPSafety.com, Car-Safety.org, NHTSA, Safe Kids USA)


But my pediatrician says that I should turn him forward, even though he's not one yet.

Your pediatrician is lacking vital information on child passenger safety and car seats. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended for 2 years that a child rear-faces until the child reaches age 2 or the maximum weight and height guidelines for the rear-facing seat. A rear-facing convertible seat with a weight limit of 35 lbs. or higher should be used if the infant seat is outgrown before the child turns 2 year old (1 year adjusted age for preemies). Best practice is to keep your child rear-facing past age 2 until your child's convertible carseat is outgrown by weight or height. (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, NHTSA, Safe Kids USA)


When has my child outgrown a rear-facing seat?

Any rear-facing seat is outgrown when:

  1. The child has less than 1" of carseat above his/her head, OR
  2. The child has reached the maximum rear-facing weight limit of the carseat.

If an infant seat is outgrown before the child turns 2, a convertible carseat can accommodate the child rear-facing to a taller height and higher weight.

The height guidelines are put on the seat by manufacturers to give a rough number of how tall a baby can be to use the seat. Remember, a baby who is all legs can use the seat longer than a baby who has a long torso. The weight limits must be strictly followed! (Source: Car-Safety.org, SBS USA)


My rear-facing baby's head flops forward when she sleeps and she looks uncomfortable. What can I do?

All infant and convertible carseats have angle indicators that will help you achieve the proper recline angle for that seat. First, make sure your vehicle is parked on a flat surface, then adjust the angle of the seat to the most reclined allowed. If the carseat allows, a more upright position for an older infant is safer because it decreases the chance they will "ramp up" the seat in a crash. Remove any head inserts because they can affect the way your baby's head lays in the carseat. If your baby's head flops down to her chest when s/he's asleep, the angle is probably wrong. If you've increased the angle, it's possible the carseat isn't a good fit for your child. (SBS USA, Car-Safety.org)


Does the handle need to be down on an infant seat?

It depends on the manufacturer of the infant seat. Many manufacturers reinforce infant seat handles and allow them to be upright while in the vehicle; Combi even requires it for their infant seats. Because of the variation in manufacturer recommendations regarding where the infant seat handle should be positioned, it is best to consult the manual. If the manual is unclear, call the customer service line and ask. If the handle must be down and there is not enough room to put it down in your vehicle, rotate the handle down further toward the floor. In a crash, the infant seat will rebound into the back seat. If it is up, an unreinforced handle could break and seriously injure the infant or another passenger. (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org)

Following is a partial list of infant seat manufacturers where the infant seat handles must be in the down position behind the top of the seat.

  • Baby Trend
  • some Britax infant seat models
  • Evenflo
  • Learning Curve, though the Learning Curve Via I450 preferred position is forward, close to the vehicle seatback (over the child's legs in the rebound position)
  • Peg Perego
  • Team Tex

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Forward-Facing Seats

How long should my child use a forward-facing harnessed seat?

Once a child has outgrown a rear-facing carseat, he should be placed forward-facing in either a convertible carseat or a harnessed combination seat (a seat with a harness that later converts to a belt positioning booster seat). Most children are ready for belt positioning boosters at around at 5 and after 40 lbs., which is the age when their maturity allows them to sit still and the weight when boosters will fit properly. The AAP suggests using a harness until the seat is outgrown. If a child outgrows a convertible carseat by height, a combination carseat with high top harness slots is a good option. Most combination seats have taller harness slots and higher weight limits than convertible carseats. (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics)


When has my child outgrown a forward-facing seat?

Any forward-facing carseat is outgrown when:

  1. The tips of the child's ears are above the top of the carseat, OR
  2. The child's shoulders are above the top harness slots of the carseat, OR
  3. The child has reached the maximum forward-facing weight limit of the carseat.

The height guidelines are put on the seat by manufacturers to give a rough number of how tall a child can be to use the seat. Remember, a child who is all legs can use the seat longer than a child who has a long torso. The weight limits must be strictly followed! (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org, CPSafety.com)

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Booster Seats


Can my child use just the vehicle's seat belts when he's too big for the carseat?

No. The next step after a convertible or forward-facing carseat is a booster seat. Vehicle seat belts are designed for a 160 lb. adult man and will not fit a child correctly until he's around age 10 and close to 5' tall (or close to being adult-sized). A booster seat will boost the child up so that the lap belt will fit over his hips more safely and the shoulder belt will fit properly across his chest and shoulder. Aside from the booster being the smart next step for a child, many states now have laws requiring booster use. Click here to see when your child is ready for a vehicle's seat belts. Never use a booster seat with a lap-only belt if you are not using a harness. The child could receive severe abdominal and head injuries in a crash. There are several higher weight harness options on the market now for bigger kids who must sit in a lap-only belt position. (Source: SBS USA, Car-Safety.org)

How do I know when my child is big enough to use the vehicle's seat belts without a booster?

SafetyBeltSafe USA has developed a simple 5-step test:

  1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
  2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
  3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
  4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If you answered "No" to any of the above questions, your child still needs to ride in a booster. If you forget the 5-step test, buckle yourself in a seat belt and see how it fits you. Chances are it fits low across your hips and across your shoulder and chest. The seat belt should hit all your "bony" parts and that's how it should fit your child when he passes the 5-step test. (Source: SBS USA)

Even if your child does pass the 5-step test, and he still fits safely in his booster seat (shoulders are at or below the shoulder belt guides, tops of ears are below the top of the headrest, and maximum weight limit hasn't been reached), you may want to consider leaving your child in the booster seat. Pelvis bones don't fully develop until around age 20. The iliac crests, the hard parts of the hips that stick out in front (and help hold the lap portion of the seat belt in place), aren't developed until a child nears the end of booster seat use or later. The arms or cutouts of a booster seat act as false hips for the child and help keep the lap portion of the seat belt in place. If your child has outgrown his booster seat and you'd like to keep him in a booster, there are larger backless models available on the market.


I put my child in a lap-only belt in the center of the back seat. Is this safe?

No. Lap-only belts are not safe for people. The center position of the back seat is not the safest choice if it has a lap-only belt. A lap-only belt does not provide upper body restraint, so in a frontal crash, the upper body will swing forward. Because of this lack of upper body restraint, severe, irreversible spinal cord injuries can occur as the body flies forward (commonly known as seat belt syndrome). The person's head may also strike the front seats, causing severe head injuries. Lap-only belts also do not fit young children correctly and usually lie over the soft tissues of the abdomen. A lap-only belt is preferable to no seat belt at all because it will hopefully keep the person restrained and in the vehicle (a person is 4 times more likely to die in a crash if ejected from the vehicle). Using a lap-only belt to install a harnessed carseat is just fine, assuming you can get a good fit in that position.


Many states now have booster seat laws requiring booster seats for children over age 4 and 40 lbs. It is NOT safe to use a booster seat with a lap-only belt. The booster seat may correctly position the lap-only belt over the hips, but because it boosts the child up higher, the child's head excursion (how far the head comes away from the back of the seat) will be greatly increased. E-Z-On Products and Safe Traffic System Inc. make harnesses that provide upper body restraint for use with lap-only belts. The 86-Y harness may also be used with the Ride Ryte booster seat available at E-Z-On Products. If you cannot use an E-Z-On harness or other harnessed restraint with a lap-only belt, it is safer to use the lap-only belt by itself without a booster seat. Also, check with your vehicle manufacturer to see if shoulder belts can be retrofitted in outboard positions (if you don't have them already available in those positions). Unfortunately, shoulder belts cannot be retrofitted for center seating positions. (Source: CPSafety.com, Car-Safety.org)

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