Car seats for children are a necessary item, both because of the law and the safety hazards children face in cars without one. Each year, though, it seems the laws and recommendations change for what is actually safe for your child. This can lead to quite a bit of confusion for parents, but it can be explained simply. Keep in mind, the following are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. These are not federal laws, or even state laws. You will need to look into the laws for your state to determine if you are in compliance. These recommendations are what are suggested to keep your children safe while traveling in the car.
For Infants and Toddlers
It is recommended that all infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing, 5 point harness seat until they are at least two years old. To ensure your child can do this, buy a seat with a larger weight limit. A convertible seat is ideal, because when your child is ready to forward face, you can flip them around and not worry about buying a new seat.
It is recommended that Preschoolers (aged 2-5) wear a five point harness that forward faces. You can use this type of seat in this position for older children, too, as long as they don’t exceed the seats height and weight requirements.
Children who are 5 and older should be able to use a booster seat, based on their height, weight, and maturity level. Do not use a backless booster right away, however. Start with a belt-positioning booster seat until your children reach a height and weight where the car’s seat belt fits properly without the guidance of the booster and when they are mature enough to keep it in place. This is typically done when they are 4 feet 9 inches in height, and are between 8 and 12 years of age.
Installing a safety seat correctly
Always follow the manual that comes with your car seat to install it properly. You can use either the LATCH system that most newer cars have, or the seat belt in the car to secure the seat. DO NOT USE BOTH at one time. This is very dangerous. The ONLY exception to this is using the top tether with the LATCH system on all forward-facing seats, even if you have used the seat belt to install the bottom portion of the seat in your vehicle. When using LATCH, remember that all have a safety limit of 65 pounds maximum, and that includes both your child’s weight combined with the weight of the car seat. If your child and his or her seat exceed that limit, use the safety belts. All car seats should be installed in the back seat of your vehicle and should be in the middle of the seat, if possible. If the middle seat does not allow you to install the seat correctly or tight enough, place it behind the driver’s seat for the safest position in the car.