Mar 11, 2024

Child Passenger Safety Week: How to Find the Correct Car Seat for Your Child

child passenger safety

This week is Child Passenger Safety Week, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has chosen to highlight car seat safety this year. Car seats are an invaluable and safe part of bringing a child along for a ride. Choosing the correct car seat is more complicated than one might think, though, and parents should be aware of the criteria for choosing the right one.

While the majority of parents who purchase car seats seem to buy the correct one and install it correctly, there are still too many children improperly restrained. To wit, in a recently released survey on the use of booster seats, NHTSA found that 37.4 percent of children ages four to seven were not being properly restrained.

“When children are not buckled up or are riding in a seat that isn’t used correctly, their safety is in jeopardy,” NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement. “You can act by making sure your kids are buckled up and in the right car seats for their age and size.”

In light of this advice from the top car safety official in the country, the following is a list things to consider when you purchase a car seat for your child.

Which Type of Car Seat Is Right for Your Child?

There are three types of car seats that a child should sit in over the course of their life. As a child grows a different type of car seat is needed to keep them as safe as possible in the car.

Rear-Facing Seats — 1-3 years — Ideal for newborns, infants, and small toddlers.

When a child is born, they should be riding in a rear-facing car seat. This is ideal for very young children because the seat has a harness and, in the event of a crash, it will cradle and move with the child to reduce the stress on their fragile neck and spinal cord, according to NHTSA.

It is recommended that a child remain in a rear-facing car seat for, at the very least, one year, and ideally until they outgrow it entirely. Once they do, somewhere between the ages of one and three, they should begin traveling in a forward-facing car seat.

Forward-Facing Seats — 1-7 years — Ideal for large toddlers, preschoolers, and small school aged children.

Forward-facing car seats are good for toddlers. They have a harness and tether that runs across the front of their bodies and limits their forward movement during a crash. As with a rear-facing car seat, it is recommended that a child remain in a forward-facing car seat until they outgrow it. However, that might take a while as some children won’t outgrow a forward-facing car seat until they are six or seven, according to NHTSA.

Booster Seat — 4-12 years — Ideal for large preschoolers, and school-aged children.

Booster seats do not have their own harnesses, and instead boost the child's height so they can safely wear the vehicle’s seat belt. Some booster seats have a high back, while others have no back. High-back booster seats provide head and neck support, which is ideal for vehicles without headrests.

It is recommended that children should remain in a booster seat until they can safely wear a seat belt. When this happens will vary with each child, but typically a child should not begin using a seat belt before they are eight, according to NHTSA.

How Do You Properly Install a Car Seat?

While choosing the correct car seat for your child is important for their safety, it means nothing if it is not installed properly.

First and foremost, the car seat should always go in the back seat regardless of what type it is, according to NHTSA. From there, each car and car seat is different, so it is important to read the instruction manual for your child’s car seat carefully.

Once the car seat is in place, make sure it is secured tightly. If properly secured, it should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than one inch when the seat belt is pulled. If you are unsure about the installation of your child’s car seat, many local fire and police stations offer free car seat inspections.

Register Your Car Seat

Now that your child is in the correct type of car seat and it is installed properly, you may think you’re done. However, products are recalled all the time and this includes car seats. It is very important to register your child’s car seat with NHTSA, so they can notify you of any recall associated with it. Not registering your child’s car seat could put them in danger because the car seat may turn out to be unsafe.

Accidents Can Happen

If you or your child sustained an injury during a car crash that wasn’t your fault, you may incur expensive medical and repair bills. You should not have to pay for those, and may be eligible for compensation depending on the circumstances of your crash. To learn more about what to do after a car accident, visit our car accident information page today or fill out our free case review form today.