Child safety seats are required by law in every state. However, to parents, these laws can be confusing, and correct installation of a child safety seat can be challenging. How do parents know when to switch from rear-facing to front facing seats for their infants and toddlers, and from infant seats to booster seats, and finally from booster seats to just lap and shoulder belts?
Information from the USAA Educational Foundation can be helpful. They suggest following these general guidelines for selecting and installing a child safety seat:
It must be appropriate for the child's age, height and weight.
It must fit tightly into your vehicle and not move more than one inch from side to side and front to back.
It should be placed in the rear seat.
Read the instructions that come with the seat.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's "Status Report" is also an excellent source for child safety. From the Aug. 18, 2011 issue it is now recommended that all infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat at least until the age of two and beyond unless they have reached the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat's manufacturer. During a crash, rear-facing child seats provide more support for the head, neck, and spine, which is why children should use them for as long as possible. These seats should be installed in the rear seat of the vehicle. Never place a rear-facing child seat on the front seat with an air bag.
LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is an alternative way to attach child safety seats to a vehicle and is designed to simplify the installation in vehicles so equipped. latch secures a safety seat to the vehicle using straps from the child safety seat that connect to special metal anchors in the vehicle. However, the seat and the vehicle must be compatible. If you are able to use the latch method, do not use the vehicle's seat belt system at the same time.
A convertible seat can be used as a replacement when the child outgrows the height and weight recommendations of an infant seat but still needs to ride rear-facing up to two years of age or the highest weight limit allowed by the manufacturer. When this limit has been reached, a forward-facing seat can be used.
Whenever a child at least two years old has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car seat, they should be moved into a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness and continue in this manner until they have again outgrown the highest weight or height allowed by this seat's manufacturer. Never place a rear-facing child seat in the forward-facing position. And, as with the rear-facing seat, the child should ride in the vehicle's back seat.
The next step after the child has outgrown the height or weight for the forward-facing seat is to move to a belt-positioning booster seat. The booster seat positions the vehicle's seat belt to fit properly, with the lap belt snug across the child's upper thighs and the shoulder belt is snug across the child's chest. There are high-back boosters and no-back boosters. The high-back booster provides for head support. With the no-back booster, the vehicle's headrest needs to be adjusted to provide the proper head and neck protection. A child should ride in a booster seat until the vehicle's seat belt fits properly without any booster, typically when the child has reached four feet nine inches in height and is between 8 to 12 years of age.
In all cases, seat belts should be positioned correctly. Lap belts should be across the upper thighs (pelvic bone) and the shoulder belt should be snug across the chest. Never put a shoulder belt behind the back. Also, everyone should be belted at all times - no exceptions.
Here are a few more safety tips:
Never use just the lap belt with booster seats.
Always read the instructions that come with the seat.
When in doubt, go consult a certified child protective seat technician. Most police agencies have at least one qualified technician, or call your local state police.
For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board's web site at: www.franklincony.org and click on "Traffic Safety Board" under departments then look for Did You Know articles under "services."