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Some frequently asked questions about car seat safety

Which car seat is the safest for my child?

Every car seat manufactured or sold in the U.S. must meet strict federal government safety standards. Car seats with the five-point harness are thought to be the safest because they restrain your child’s whole body. The best and safest seat is the one that fits your child based on his/her size and age, fits in your vehicle, and is used properly EVERY time you drive.

Why is rear-facing so important?

A recent study found that children ages 1-2 are 5 times safer in side impact crashes when riding rear-facing compared to forward-facing.[1] In the event of a crash, infants are at a greater risk because their spines and necks are still developing, and because their heads are so large in proportion to their bodies. When a child is properly positioned and the rear-facing car seat is installed correctly, the child’s head, neck, spine and back are “cradled” and better protected by the car seat because the crash forces are evenly distributed over the entire body.

My child is sitting rear-facing but his/her legs are all squished. Is it time to turn him/her forward-facing?

No, your child’s legs being “squished” is not an indication to turn your child forward-facing or that he has outgrown his rear-facing car seat. A child riding rear-facing with longer legs is not at a higher risk of injury in a crash. Children’s bodies are naturally more flexible than adult’s.

When has my baby outgrown the car seat used to bring him/her home from the hospital?

Most babies come home from the hospital in the rear-facing infant only car seat. Your child has outgrown the rear-facing infant only car seat when he/she has reached the maximum height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Also, children have outgrown their rear-facing infant only car seat when the child’s head is within one inch of the top of the car seat shell. Many children will outgrow the rear-facing infant only car seat around the age of 1. Children should remain rear-facing until they are at least 2 years old so once they outgrow their rear-facing infant only car seat, make sure you transition them to a rear- facing convertible car seat with higher height and weight limits.

How old is my car seat?

There will be a sticker on your car seat indicating the date of manufacture. An expiration date may also be “stamped” or embossed on the plastic shell of the car seat. Most car seats have a lifespan of between 5-8 years. Never use a car seat after the expiration date. Newer car seats may have better safety features than older models.

What is LATCH?

LATCH stands for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children”. It is an alternative installation system for car seats. It has been available on car seats manufactured after September 1, 2002.

What is a tether and when is it used?

A tether is a webbing strap that is attached to the top of a car seat and equipped with a hook or another fastener on the opposite end. When the car seat is forward-facing, the tether is attached to a designated tether anchor in the vehicle. Attaching a tether can reduce the forward motion of a child’s head in a crash by 4, 6, 8, or more inches, depending on the size of the child and the severity of the crash. Use of a tether for forward-facing car seat is strongly recommended. Tethering a rear-facing safety seat is less common and is only allowed on a few car seat models. A tether is not necessary on booster seats, but some manufacturers suggest leaving it attached even after the harness has been removed on a combination seat. Always read your car seat owner’s manual and your vehicle owner’s manual for instructions.

Are there weight limits to the lower anchors?

YES! Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 (FMVSS 213) is the safety standard that mandates and regulates the car seats and booster seats that are sold in the US. There was a significant amendment to FMVSS 213 in February 2014 that addressed the weight limits to the lower anchors. For car seats made AFTER February 27, 2014 your car seat will state on a sticker on the car seat AND in the instructional manual the MAXIMUM weight for your child to use the lower anchors.

My child’s weight exceeds the lower anchor weight limit allowed by the manufacturer. Do I have to buy a new car seat?

NO! If your child is still within the height and weight limits of the 5-point harness you can continue to use the car seat but you must install it using the vehicle seat belt and tether and NOT using the lower anchors.

Which is better to install my car seat, the seat belt or LATCH?

One system is not better or safer than the other. Whichever system results in a tighter fit in your specific vehicle is the best one to use. Once installed you don’t want your car seat to move more than 1” from the right to the left testing at the belt path. Don’t use both the seat belt and the LATCH system at the same time.

Where is the safest place in the car for my child to sit?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that all children 12 and under be restrained in the rear-seat.[2] Researchers estimate that putting a child in the back seat instead of the front reduces the chance of injury and death by more than 30%, whether or not the car has a passenger air bag. Car seats fit differently with various vehicle belts and seat cushions, and a tight fit is very important. If the car has lap-shoulder belts on the sides only, older children in boosters or seat belts only should sit on the side instead of using a lap belt only in the center seating position.

How can I tell if the car seat “fits” my car?

The best way is to try it out in your car before you buy the car seat. You may have problems if the vehicle seat has deep contours, humps, or certain types of safety belts. Read the installation instructions that came come with the car seat. Also look in the index of your vehicle owner’s manual under “child restraint,” and read about how to install a car seat in your specific vehicle. A car seat should never wobble, pivot, slide side-to-side more than an inch from the right to the left, or tip over. For a booster, make sure the vehicle seat belt is positioned correctly on the child.

My child and I were involved in a crash, should I replace my seat?

Generally, the recommendation is to replace car seats after they have been involved in a crash. It is sometimes impossible to identify small cracks or weakness in the plastic shell after a crash.

What information is found on the car seat label?

The label contains lots of valuable information including the height and weight limits for the harness straps of the car seat. It will also identify the location of the seat belt path. It may contain warnings for your specific car seat such as the maximum weight limit allowed while using the lower anchors, as well as the manufactured date and expiration date. Never remove any of the stickers on a car seat.

Does my child need to ride in a booster seat or use the seat belt?

Take the 5 Step Booster Seat Test:

  1. Does the child sit all the way back against the vehicle’s seat?
  2. Is the lap belt below the stomach, touching the top of the child’s thighs?
  3. Is the shoulder belt centered on the shoulder and chest?
  4. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle’s seat?
  5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole ride?

If you answered “NO” to any ONE of these questions than your child is NOT ready for the seat belt and needs to continue to ride in a booster seat.



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