Safety is one of a parent’s top priorities. We want everything to be as safe as possible for our children. One of the best ways to ensure our children’s safety is through the proper installation and progression through car seats.
Knowing all the ins and outs of car seat shopping, installation, and progression can be a challenge. Are all car seats the same? How and when will my child graduate to another type or size of car seat? Do I pick any car seat?
These are just a few of the questions new parents have when it comes to car seats and their little ones. The truth is car seats are incredibly necessary, but the entire process can be overwhelming and confusing. Everything from child seat laws to the type of car seat you choose is a question with a variety of answers.
The Importance of Car Seats
We spend a lot of time in cars. And as car technology advances, we seem to spend more and more time there. Gone are the days of walking to the corner store for groceries or spending Friday night wandering around our city’s downtown scene.
There are exceptions to this rule, but in general, most people hop in the car for just about everything. We run errands, commute to and from work or school, drive to see friends and family, or catch a movie.
Having a young child doesn’t change the fact that we are on the go. It does, however, change how we view the safety of our vehicles and the road, with a higher importance being placed on driving the safest vehicles we can.
Young children need the extra support, comfort, and protection of proper car seats. As newborns and young babies, children need extra support for their heads and necks. Car seats provide that support while the loving arms of mom and dad aren’t available.
In the event of a car accident, young children of all sizes and ages need extra protection. A properly fitted and installed car seat can and has saved countless young lives. Simply knowing a child is safe in the right car seat, regardless of age, gives a parent that extra sense of security and peace of mind.
Car Seat Laws by State
Keeping young children and newborns safe in the car should be one of a parent’s top priorities, but It’s not just parents who are concerned about car seat safety. State legislatures have made their feelings on the subject known as well.
Every state and territory of the U.S. has child safety seat laws and requirements. The general requirement is that children are required to ride in a child safety seat fitting specific criteria. The similarities and generalizations end there, however.
The age, height, and weight requirements for each state vary. Many states — 23 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands — stipulate that children should ride in rear-facing child seats for as long as possible.
Most states, including Puerto Rico, even require older children to ride in approved booster seats once they have outgrown all child safety seats but aren’t ready for adult seat belts.
That’s why it’s so important to research and understand the car seat laws in your area.
Car Seats for Each Age
Finding the right car seat and getting it properly installed is one of the first steps in preparing for a newborn. But it’s not a one-and-done situation. Children grow and adapt, and their bodies and needs change rapidly. As a result, their car seats will need to grow and change with them.
Infants and Toddlers
The safest type of car seat for newborns to young toddlers is a rear-facing seat. Children shouldn’t be moved to a forward-facing seat until they reach the highest weight and height measurements in their rear-facing seat.
In most cases, car seat manufacturers have created rear-facing seats that allow children to ride in this position until they are at least 2 years of age. But there isn’t just one kind of rear-facing car seat. In fact, there are two different types of rear-facing car seats that parents can choose from for their new bundle of joy.
Rear-facing only car seats are the car seats we generally see on T.V. and in movies. These smaller car seats have handles and click into or out of a car seat base that is left in the car itself.
These car seats are used until a child weighs between 22 and 35 pounds and is 26 to 35 inches tall. The specific height and weight measurements will vary depending on the manufacturer of the seat.
Convertible seats are a more modern version of the rear-facing car seat. These seats are larger and are not removed from the car when a child is carried in and out. They are designed to stay in the car and grow with the child.
The biggest advantage of the convertible seat is its longevity. These seats can be converted to a forward-facing seat when the child reaches the height and weight requirements of that transition. In addition, these seats are most often designed with a five-point harness, which is proven to be safer and more comfortable for young children.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
The next stage in the car seat progression is the forward-facing car seat. These types of car seats are used only when a child has outgrown the height and weight measurements for the rear-facing seat.
But it isn’t just as simple as searching for a forward-facing car seat. When your child is ready for this move, there are two different types of forward-facing seats to choose from — convertible or harness.
The forward-facing convertible is the same as the rear-facing convertible seat as far as design and function. These seats are able to grow and transition with a young child while they are forward-facing.
Forward-Facing with Harness
A forward-facing seat with a harness is a slightly different design than convertible seats. A harness seat attaches at the shoulders, the hips, and between the legs. They are used for children who weigh between 40 and 65 pounds. Some models can be used as booster seats without the harness for children between 100 and 120 pounds.
As children transition into elementary school, they are still in need of a safety seat of some kind. Children at this point need a booster seat that uses an adult seat belt.
Again, these are used when a child exceeds the height and weight measurements in their previous car seat. In general, children outgrow booster seats when they reach 4 feet 9 inches, usually between ages 8 and 12.
There are few design options for booster seats. The majority are not integrated, meaning they do not attach to the seat of the car itself. Booster seats are held in place once the child is fastened in the seat with the seat belt of the car.
When children graduate out of a booster seat, they are ready to use the seat belt only. The seat belt should fit comfortably, and they should also use the shoulder and lap belt. Even though they are not in a safety seat of any kind, children should remain in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old. The back seat is the safest space for a child of any age.
Safety Precautions and Installation
Every parent has their own opinions and thoughts on which seat is safest or best for their child. The good news is there is no one seat. The best seat for your child is the one that fits your child’s height and weight correctly, is installed correctly, and is used properly every time you drive.
It’s rarely a good idea to use a used car seat unless you have a detailed history of that seat. These car seats could have been damaged in a car accident, could be under some sort of recall, or simply be too old.
Proper installation depends on the type and design of the car seat you’ve selected. It’s important to follow all installation instructions and have it checked by a professional. Most firehouses have certified car seat inspectors who can look over the car seat you’ve selected and installed.
Car seats are important, but it’s not always a straightforward process. It’s important to know your state and local laws, do your research, and install the car seat properly. Car seats save lives, so find the right one and get some peace of mind.
Laura Gunn writes and researches for the car insurance comparison site, CarInsurance.org. She has two young boys and is passionate about all parents knowing the right car seat for their growing child.