Last month we wrote a post on Car Seat Safety which included helpful tips to make sure your car seat is installed correctly. One of the most important aspects of car seat safety is using a seat that properly fits your child. Car seats have both weight and height restrictions as well as age restrictions. There are 4 stages of car seat use: rear facing, forward facing, booster and seat belt. There are also many car seats that be used for multiple stages.
Stage 1 – Rear Facing
All infant seats commonly, called bucket seats or travel systems, are meant to be used rear facing. Typically the car seat base is installed in the car and the car seat can easily click and in out of the base. Infant seats have a carrier handle to help with transportation, but it is important to check your car seat manual to make sure it is in the correct position during use in a vehicle. This varies depending on the type of car seat you have. The portability of these seats makes them very handy and many of these car seats can even click into strollers!
There are also convertible car seats that can be installed rear facing. Infants can quickly outgrow the bucket car seat or you may choose to skip the infant seat all together and go straight to an Infant/Child convertible car seat. Most of these seats can also eventually be used forward facing when your child is ready. The law states a child must be rear facing until minimum age of 1 year old, at least 22 lbs and walking unassisted. Since rear facing is significantly safer than forward facing it is recommended you leave your child rear facing as long as your convertible car seat will allow and until at least 2 years of age.
Stage 2 – Forward Facing
The second stage of car seat safety is using a forward facing car seat. In many cases the same convertible car seat can also be used forward facing providing the car seat is not expired, it still fits the child and the vehicle. It is important to check the car seat manual and vehicle manual before installation. There are also child/booster seats which are car seats that can eventually be used as booster seats. These are also referred to as harnessed boosters or combination seats. It is recommended a child is properly harnessed in a vehicle until they are developmentally ready for a booster and at least 40 pounds. Although the law allows booster use at 40 pounds and 4 years of age, the typical child is not developmentally ready for a booster until they are at least 6 years old. The child must be able to sit properly in the booster every ride, for the entire ride, even while sleeping. They should not lean over to grab anything or put the belt behind their shoulder.
Stage 3 – Booster Seat with Seat belt
The third stage of car seat safety is a booster seat. It is recommended to first use a high back booster as they provide more security, assists with seatbelt placement and provides head support. It is important to only use a booster with a lap/shoulder belt and never a lap-only belt. The belt should be flat across the upper thighs and the shoulder strap should sit across the collarbone. It should not be on the child’s neck or off the shoulder.
By law a child is required to be in a car seat or booster until he or she is 4’9” and 9 years old but many kids should actually remain in a booster seat much longer than that. A child should remain in a booster seat until they pass the “five step test”.
Stage 4 – Seat belt
The 4th stage is seat belt use without a car seat or booster. It is important that they pass all of the questions in the Five Step Test prior to riding in a vehicle without a booster.