I have never felt so inept as I did when trying to decide what car seat to buy for my children. It started with the carrier and has continued on to the booster. Why is it so difficult? Because frankly, there are too many choices out there–too many models, to many brands, too many price points–just too many of everything! Phew–time to take a deep breath and start at the beginning–what exactly are the different kinds of car seats, and which one does your child need? Enter Erin Malone, MPH, a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and Injury Prevention Coordinator at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange County, California who breaks it all down for us.
Walking down the car seat aisle can be an overwhelming experience. With so many options these days, it’s hard for parents to know what seat is most appropriate for their child. Here are the main types of seats and what you need to know to help you make an informed decision…
In a frontal collision (the most common kind of crash), the shell of the seat – not your child’s head or neck – takes the brunt of the crash forces. This is a key reason why children should ride rear-facing until at least 2 years old, preferably longer.
There are two kinds of rear-facing seats -
• Infant seats snap into a base that stays in the car, and they are meant to face the back of the car only.
• Convertible seats can face backward or forward, depending on the age and size of the child.
A baby can use an infant seat or a convertible, although many parents choose infant seats for convenience. Either option is safe as long as the baby fits well in the seat. For a rear-facing seat, the harness needs to be at or below the child’s shoulders. If you use a convertible car seat for a baby, make sure the baby’s shoulders are at least even with the lowest harness slots.
When babies outgrow the infant seat, it’s time to move to a rear-facing convertible. Convertible seats typically have a rear-facing weight limit of at least 35 pounds, and many now go to 40 or 45 pounds. Almost any convertible seat will keep most children rear-facing until they are at least 2 years old. If you have a very tall child, make sure you look for a seat that has a tall shell.
Your child has outgrown his rear-facing car seat when he reaches the maximum weight limit or has less than an inch of shell over his head. Many parents believe that they need to turn a child forward-facing when their feet touch the backseat. There are no safety concerns with the child’s feet touching the back of the seat. In fact, leg injuries are almost unheard of for rear-facing children, but are actually one of the most common injuries in children in a forward-facing seat.
There are three kinds of forward-facing harnessed seats: convertible seats (can go backward or forward), combination seats (has a harness but also turns into a booster seat), and forward-facing-only seats (has a harness and only faces forward, but does not turn into a booster). As long as the child fits properly and the seat can be installed correctly, all are safe.
Ideally, children shouldn’t move to a forward-facing seat until they are at least 2 years old. With a forward-facing seat, the harness needs to come from at or above the child’s shoulders (the opposite of rear-facing). A forward-facing seat is outgrown when the child reaches the weight limit, the child’s shoulders go over the top harness slot, or the tops of the child’s ears go over the top of the seat’s shell.
It’s best to keep a child in a harnessed seat until he or she is at least 4 years old, although many seats on the market can keep a child harnessed well beyond that.
Booster seats help properly position an adult seatbelt on a child.
• A booster is a safe option if it allows the lap belt to sit low across the child’s hips (not the belly) and positions the shoulder belt across the middle of the child’s shoulder.
• A child needs to be able to sit properly without playing with the seatbelt or leaning out of position. Generally speaking, most children aren’t mature enough to sit properly until around age 5.
Different boosters fit kids and vehicles in different ways, so try them out to make sure they work well with each child and in each car.
Regardless of your state’s laws, children should ride in a booster seat until you can answer “yes” to all of these questions:
1. Does the child sit all the way back in the seat?
2. Do his/her knees bend naturally at the edge of the seat?
3. Does the lap belt sit low on the child’s hips, not across the belly?
4. Does the shoulder belt cross the middle of the child’s shoulder, not falling off and not rubbing his/her neck?
5. Can he/she sit properly for the entire ride?
Most children won’t fit properly in an adult seatbelt until at they are at least 10 years old. If the seatbelt doesn’t fit properly (or if the child doesn’t fit well in the seat, which leads to slouching), the seatbelt can actually cause injuries in a crash.
A FEW MORE TIPS:
• Try seats before you buy. Make sure the seat fits your child and your car well. It’s rare for a child restraint to be incompatible with a car, but it does happen.
• On rear-facing and forward-facing harnessed seats, make sure the harness is snug, and allows you to position the chest clip at your child’s armpit.
• Always read your car seat and vehicle manuals, and don’t be afraid to call the manufacturer for clarification.
• Never buy a used seat. It might be recalled, be missing parts, been in a crash, or it might have been mistreated.
Even if you think you’ve done everything right, make an appointment to have a Child Passenger Safety Technician check your installation. Despite parents’ best efforts, more than 80 percent of seats are used incorrectly. Don’t let your child be part of that statistic!
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Erin Malone, MPH, is a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and Injury Prevention Coordinator at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange County, California. She holds a master of arts degree in public health and has been dedicated to child passenger safety for over 10 years. You can reach Erin at emalone @ choc.org or ( 714) 532-8631.Pin It