Is Your 1-Year-Old in the Right Car Seat? Here Are the Rules

These are the latest car seat guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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There's one issue that's tricky for pretty much every parent out there: car seat safety. So many questions come up when it comes to putting your baby in safely for a car ride—did you install the car seat properly? Is your baby facing in the right direction? Is he or she sitting in the proper position? Is your baby too big for the car seat? Too small? How long will he or she have to be in a seat?

The good news? The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines to help teach all about car seat safety — and these rules are a must-read. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children over the age of 4, according to the AAP. But placing a child in their car seat correctly can decrease the risk of death or serious injury by 71 percent among infants, 5 percent among toddlers, and 45 percent among children ages 4 to 8, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. And those are just a couple of reasons why the new AAP car seat guidelines are even more crucial for parents to note.

Previously, the AAP advised that parents keep their children in rear-facing car seats until the age of 2. Now, they note that "all infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their CSS’s manufacturer. Most convertible seats have limits that will permit children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more."

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After that, parents can transition to the next phase of the car seat or a booster seat.

The change was based on evolving science and data. Extending rear-facing seating for as long as possible will make for further protection of children's developing heads, necks and spines in the event of a crash, according to the AAP.

Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, lead author of the AAP policy statement and chair of the AAP council on injury, violence and poison prevention, said in a statement: "Fortunately, car seat manufacturers have created seats that allow children to remain rear-facing until they weigh 40 pounds or more, which means most children can remain rear-facing past their second birthday. It’s best to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. This is still the safest way for children to ride.”

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The AAP statement also notes the following important recommendations:

  • Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the height and weight limits for their seats. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.
  • When children exceed these limits, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly. This is often when they have reached at least 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old.
  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
  • All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

The AAP also powers HealthyChildren.org, a site that offers up credible information for parents looking to keep their children safe. It gives answers to questions that will arise for so many parents out there, from how tight your seat's harness should be, to what you can do if your child slouches down in the seat—it even includes information on how you should dress your baby before putting him or her in a seat.

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All in all, the updated guidelines offer clearer information for parents who are grappling with the difficult task of keeping kids as safe as possible during car rides.

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