How important is it to select the right safety seat for your child? You can probably already tell me the answer to that, but if there’s any doubt, consider these statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In the United States during 2005, 1,335 children ages 14 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and approximately 184,000 were injured. That’s an average of 4 deaths and 504 injuries each day. Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S.
However, they go on to point out that:
Among children under age 5, in 2006, an estimated 425 lives were saved by car and booster seat use.
Choosing the right car seat is a decision you want to make before your child is even born. You’ll want to have the right seat ready to bring your baby home from the hospital. And the appropriate seat will change along with your child as he or she grows.
There are three types of safety seats for your child:
- Rear-facing (for infants)
- Forward-facing (for toddlers)
- Booster (for tweens)
Kids aren’t all made the same, so the selection is based primarily on the child’s size and weight.
You’ll always place the rear-facing seat in the back seat of the vehicle, away from passenger airbags. There are two types of rear-facing seats: infant-only and convertible.
Infant-only seats are for babies up to about 22 to 30 pounds. Infant-only seats have handles that let you to take the seat out of the car to carry your child with you. Some have a base that can stay installed in the vehicle. You can simply click the carrier part of the car seat into place each time you use it.
Convertible seats are for bigger infants and toddlers under one year old. They are for children weighing up 35 pounds, depending on the specific seat. The seat can be used as a rear-facing seats for younger children, and switched to a forward-facing seat if the child weighs more than 20 pounds. Experts recommend keeping the child facing to the rear until he or she outgrows the seat’s weight or height limits.
The forward-facing-only seat should be installed in the back seat of the car. Most of these seats are for children weighing 20 to 40 pounds.
Children weighing from 40 to 65 pounds can use a combination forward-facing booster seat. The safety straps can be taken off when the child gets bigger, when the lap belts and shoulder harness can fit your child correctly.
These seats are used for children up to about 80 pounds. A booster seat raises your child up so that the car's lap belt and shoulder harness fit correctly. The lap belt should fit across the upper thighs. The shoulder belt goes across the middle of the shoulder and chest.
Some other things to consider
- It’s best to buy a new safety seat. You don’t know the history of a used seat. It may have cracks or other problems and may even have been damaged in a car accident. Only use a second-hand car seat if it is from someone you know and you can get the instructions with it. All car seats have an expiration date which you can usually find on the bottom of the seat. The plastic of the seat can weaken over time, so do not use a seat past its expiration date.
- You can get your safety seat inspected. The National Highway Safety Administration provides a list of inspection stations by state. Certified technicians will inspect your child safety seat and show you how to correctly install and use it.
- Know your child restraint laws. The California Highway Patrol provides this information along with handy material on selecting safety seats.