According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), during 2005, motor vehicle crashes killed nearly 2,000 children under 14 and injured over 230,000. Having a car seat that's appropriate for your child's size and age -- and that has been installed properly -- is essential. Here are 8 tips that will help you get the right one.
Having scanned the manual will ensure a better buying experience. Car eats can be attached using either the seat belt or the LATCH system (which stands for the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children system, and which all new vehicles have). You can decide before buying which one you want to use and then look for a seat based on how you want to install it -- belt or LATCH.
If you decide to use LATCH, make sure you know where the LATCH attachments are in your vehicle -- there may not be any in the middle, rear-seating position, which is the safest spot for a child.
Even Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technicians read the vehicle owner's manual for installation instructions, notes Greg Billings, a CPS technician in Chico, California. Technicians like Billings are certified by the government to make sure child safety seats are properly installed -- they can help you once you've purchased your car seat.
CPS technicians can be found at police stations, fire stations, hospitals, your local AAA, and more. The NHTSA has a searchable database to help locate one in your area (www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/childps/contacts/).
Each car seat owner's manual details the weight and height specifications for that seat. Here are some general guidelines.
Also consider who'll be sitting in the back seat. How many children do you have? How many are in car seats? Take back seat measurements before you go shopping and bring the measuring tape with you to the store to measure the base of the seats.
Make use of all the instructions you can -- those in the instruction booklet (which should always be kept with the seat), and the diagrams on the seat itself -- to have the best possible chance of installing the seat correctly.
A tip to expectant parents? Get the seat installed before it's time to bring baby home from the hospital.
The easiest way to ensure correct installation? Have a CPS technician in your area do it for you.
If you're going to install the safety seat with the car's seat belt, you'll do so using the safety seat's belt path -- it's what will keep the seat secure. Once the seat belt is in place on the safety seat and properly fastened, there should be no more than 1 inch of side-to-side motion at the belt path -- meaning, if you grab the seat at the point where the belt enters the belt path, and push the seat side-to-side, you shouldn't be able to move the seat more than 1 inch.
The two-piece clips take some dexterity and ingenuity to unfasten. Without these, toddlers may be able to unbuckle and climb out of their seat by themselves.
All safety seat harnesses adjust, but you want to make sure the adjustments are easy to reach and simple to use. An improper harness adjustment makes the seat less effective in the event of a crash.
This one's more about cleanliness than safety -- but easy-to-clean is a virtue, too.
For more information on car safety, check out the AAA Web site. To find more guidelines for every age and type of seat, click on For Kids' Sake; then scroll down to the Safety Seat Guide.