Car Seat Tips – Is your child in the right one?
Read on for Dr. Long’s car seat guidelines to ensure a safe and fun summer of road trips for your family.
Summer is fast approaching and for many families that means lots of fun hours in the car on road trips. No parent would ever knowingly put their child’s safety at risk, but that is what often happens when we buckle our kids in the car. More than 70% of car seats are improperly installed and at least half of caregivers are not correctly securing children in their car seats. All of this greatly reduces the ability of car seats and booster seats to protect your child.
So what can parents do? First, make sure your child is in the right seat for her or his height and weight by reading the info below. Second, double check that your seat is properly installed. Safe Kids DC has sites throughout the city where they do checks most days of the week. Spring Valley Pediatrics hosted a free car seat check with Safe Kids DC in May and will be hosting another in September. Third, use the right seat in the right way every time you are in the car.
One of the most common questions we are asked as pediatricians is when a child can move to the next type of car seat or booster seat. As parents, we look forward to our children growing, maturing, and making it to the next milestone. However, with car seats it’s best to go slow. Instead of looking forward to graduating to the next safety seat, aim to keep your child in their current car seat for as long as they meet the manufacturer’s height and weight restrictions.
We find parents excitedly turn their child front-facing long before it is safe to do so. Staying rear facing for as long as possible – up to 35-50 lb in most convertible car seats – is 5 times safer for your child in a collision. Your tall two year old may look like her legs cannot comfortably fit rear facing but you would be surprised by how happily kids adjust their positions in their car seats.
Similarly, the jump from a booster seat to the regular seat is one every 5th grader is anxious to make. To check if your child is ready to retire car seats and booster seats forever, see if he passes these steps. Can he sit with his back against the vehicle’s seat, knees bent at the edge of the seat, and feet flat on the floor? Is the lap belt positioned over his thighs (not his belly) and the shoulder belt positioned across the shoulder and chest (not his neck or face)? Also importantly, can he sit properly with no slouching, moving around, leaning forward, or playing with the seatbelt? If so, you can consider ditching the booster forever but, as always, no need to rush things. They grow up fast enough.
Car seats do expire, typically six years from their manufacturing date, due to gradual breakdown of the materials and daily strain from installations and use – so be sure to check the date on the side or back of your car seat. You should also replace your safety seats if your car is in an accident, even if there is no visible damage to the car seat or your child was not riding in it at the time. Purchasing a new one is crucial to ensure your child continues to travel safely. Also, replace your car seat if there is obvious wear and tear – the straps are frayed or the harness doesn’t latch as well – since these are signs that it would not properly protect your child in an accident. As tempting as it is, never purchase a used car seat. There is no way to ensure that it is top condition and has never sustained damage in a car accident.
Still have questions? There is a lot to know about car seats and recommendations change as more medical and scientific data become available. Use your pediatrician as a guide and resource for how to keep your kids safe in all aspects of their life. We make it our job to help parents protect their little ones!
The Right Seat For Every Age
Birth to 12 months: a rear-facing car seat is the perfect spot for your little one. Infant, convertible and 3-in-1 car seats are all options for safely securing your baby. Infant car seats (aka “bucket seats”) can be used up to the first year of life or until your baby outgrows the height and weight recommendations, whichever happens first. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats can last longer but be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on height and weight requirements.
1 to 3 years: your little one is still safest rear-facing. Most convertible and 3-in-1 car seats can still be used during this age. Switch your child to front-facing once she reaches the maximum height or weight limit for the car seat. Some convertible car seats can accommodate a child up to 80lbs in the front facing position so make sure you pick a color or pattern you adore because you’ll
be seeing it for years to come!
4 to 7 years old: your school age child has likely grown to safely ride front-facing. Continue to use the five-point harness until they reach the height and weight restrictions of the seat. Combination seats (a hybrid car seat that can turn into a booster), convertible car seats, or 3-in-1 car seats should still accommodate your growing child.
8 to 12 years old: Though your child might seem so grown up, it is unlikely that he is ready to ditch safety seats altogether. A booster seat is best at this age. They come in many different shapes and sizes, with and without backs, and work with your car’s seatbelt to keep your child safe in the car.
13 and up: While the safest place in the car for your teen is in the back seat, a child of this age may legally sit in the front passenger seat.