Seven out of 10 kids riding in child safety seats are improperly buckled in, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). How do you select the right restraint for your child? We've compiled answers to your most pressing questions.
Kids should always ride rear-facing, in the backseat, for optimal protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends this until children are at least 20 pounds and age 2 or older.
Only if he's too small to ride safely in the semi-reclined position of an infant carrier. All carriers have minimum weight requirements -- most are at 5 pounds, although a few brands go down to 4 pounds.
Infant Car Seat: the infant carrier conveniently snaps into a stationary base (5 - 22 lbs).
Convertible Seat: ride rear- or forward-facing (rear-facing up to 35 lbs; forward-facing up to 60 lbs).
Both infant car seats and convertible seats work with LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children), which uses no seatbelt and exists in all cars made after September 2002 -- the base of an infant carrier or the bottom of a convertible seat clips onto a bar or built-in hooks on a vehicle's seat.
"You should decide based on ease of use," says Kristy Arbogast, PhD, a biomechanical engineer at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Choose whichever you'll use correctly each time and gives you the best fit."
A certified child-passenger safety technician (CPST) can check the installation for you. An appointment will last about 30 minutes. Just make sure to try installing the seat yourself first (so you can get a rudimentary understanding of how it works).
They're free! Go to seatcheck.org and type in your zip code to find the nearest inspection locations -- there are more than 33,000 CPSTs nationwide. Appointment slots can fill up quickly, so call early to schedule.
The center of the backseat is by far the safest. But if your middle seat has a hump and you can't tightly install the base, it's best to put the seat on one of the side seats (many cars only have LATCH on the sides). A child should never ride in the front - an inflated air bag can be fatal for little ones.
No. Most accidents occur close to home, so your child should ride in the car seat every trip.
Definitely not. All seats on the market have met the federal government's safety standards. More expensive seats may have added features, but they're not necessarily safer. Experts point out that you should avoid car accessories, because they haven't been crash-tested.
At around age 4 and at 40 pounds. A booster provides less protection than a convertible car seat, so if your convertible can hold a child up to 65 pounds, keep her in it as long as possible.
Originally published in American Baby magazine.