Car Safety: A Comprehensive Best Practice Guide to Car Seats and Car Safety

This guide to car seats and car safety will help you keep your child as safe as possible in the car. Car seat safety laws vary by state, but every state requires babies and children of varying ages to use car seats that are appropriate for their age and weight. Learn how to select the right car seat based on your child’s weight and size and fit it properly in your vehicle with our free guide to car seats and car safety below.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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We want to keep our families safe, especially when in the car where the risk of accidents is a factor. Learning about car safety, choosing the right car seat, and installing that car seat properly, are essential for preventing injuries and death.

US Child Seat and Car Safety Laws

Car seat and safety laws vary by state, but every state includes a requirement for babies and children to use car seats that are appropriate for their age and weight.

Many states require that all car seats have gone through and passed the federal approval process. The vast majority of car seats sold in the US already meet this requirement.

To learn about the specific car seat laws in your state, visit either of the following sites:

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Car Seats and Safety for Different Stages

You will want to select a car seat based on your child’s weight and size as well as if it will fit properly in your vehicle. Infants will need a rear-facing seat, while older babies and toddlers may be able to use a forward-facing car seat. Eventually, your child will be old enough for a simple booster seat and then just a seat belt like the adults in the family.

Driving Safety While Pregnant

Even before your baby is born, you will already want to consider their safety while in the vehicle. Pregnancy can make the use of seat belts uncomfortable, and sometimes new mothers worry that it might harm their unborn baby. However, a seat belt and airbag will reduce the risk of injury for yourself as well as the baby

Wearing a seat belt while pregnant – Place the lap belt under your belly and over your hips while the shoulder strap should be positioned between your breasts and off to the side, so it does not stretch over your stomach.

Rear-Facing Car Seats

Infant-only car seats are generally manufactured to fit infants from birth up to a specific weight, usually between twenty-two and thirty-five pounds. They are designed to support and protect infants who may not be able to sit upright on their own yet.

What to know about rear-facing car seats:

  • Always place a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of a vehicle.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as well as your vehicle’s manual for proper installation and securing of the seat.
  • Rear-facing car seat use is based on size, not age, so in some cases, your child may still meet the requirements for using the seat when they are as old as three or four. Generally, they will graduate to a front-facing seat around the age of two.
  • Do not leave an infant in a car seat for extended amounts of time.

Choosing a Rear-Facing Car Seat:

  • Make sure that the car seat has a label that states it meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
  • Consider new rather than used.
  • Never use a car seat that is more than six years old.
  • Never use a car seat that has been through a crash.

Forward-Facing Car Seats

Once your child is ready for a forward-facing car seat, you can either reposition a convertible child car seat (sometimes called a three-in-one) or purchase a new car seat to fit your child’s height, weight, and requirements.

What to know about forward-facing car seats:

  • These car seats generally fit children weighing between twenty and eighty pounds.
  • Forward-facing car seats should be used until your child exceeds the height and weight requirements.

Choosing a Forward-Facing Car Seat

  • Check the label to see if the car seat meets federal standards.
  • Check the specific height and weight requirements to make sure it is a good fit for your child.
  • Consider a combination car seat that will convert into a booster seat later.

Belt-Positioning Booster Seats

When your child outgrows their forward-facing car seat, there is just one step left before they can use a regular seat belt by itself – the booster seat step!

What to know about booster seats:

  • Use a booster seat until your child is big enough for their seat belt to fit properly without it.
  • The height that a child no longer needs a booster seat is approximately 4 feet 9 inches.
  • The age for graduating from a booster seat may be somewhere between nine and twelve years old.

Vehicle Seat Belts

Once your child is old enough for a seat belt to fit correctly, they are ready to leave the booster seat behind.

What to know about seat belts:

  • Remember to always wear your own seat belt to set a good example.
  • Make sure all seat belts have been fastened before the vehicle starts.
  • Shoulder straps, as well as lap belts, should be secured at all times when in the vehicle.

Front Seat

Every kid wants to sit in the front seat at some point, but the front seat and airbags can be dangerous for infants and children.

What to know about the front seat:

  • Never place a rear-facing car seat in a seat with an airbag.
  • Children should ideally not be in the front seat before the age of 12.

Resources:

Car Seat Fitting, Inspection, and Installation

To find a local child passenger safety technician to confirm that your car seat is installed correctly, you can visit the following links:

Staying Informed About the Latest Recommendations

Child safety laws are always changing, and so are the safety equipment and car seats available.

Keep up to date on the latest information and recalls by going to the following websites:

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Additional Tips for Keeping Children Safe in Your Car

There is more than just a car seat when it comes to child safety in a vehicle:

  • Utilize child locks and windows.
  • Never leave a child unsupervised in a vehicle.
  • Check vehicle safety ratings when car shopping.
  • Remember to drive safely.

Resources:

Tips When Traveling (domestic, abroad, taxis, with relatives, etc.)

Bring along a car seat or ask to have one provided if you will not be traveling in your usual vehicle. When planning a trip involving taxis, rented cars, or someone else’s vehicle, remember that you will still need a car seat. While some states allow an exemption to the rule when it comes to taxis and car seat requirements, it’s still a safer plan to bring one along.

Resources:

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