According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), many people who believe that they have the correct car seat for their child actually don’t. In addition, three out of four children in child safety seats aren’t properly secured or aren’t restrained at all because the seats have not been properly installed, notes the NHTSA.
Your child also may be at risk if your car seat is outdated or is a hand-me-down because the seat may be damaged, recalled, or missing important parts.
To help ensure that your child travels safely in a car, refer to the car-seat safety checklist below, based on recommendations from the NHTSA.
General Safety for Car Seats for Children
|___||Car seat is designed for your child’s size and age.|
|___||Car seat fits properly inside the vehicle. Note: Not all car seats fit all vehicles.|
|___||Car seat is in the back seat and is facing the seat back. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the car seat be placed in the middle back seat, if possible.|
|___||You’re sure that you understand how to correctly install and use the car seat. Note: For step-by-step NHTSA instructions for most car seats, click here. Also, consider getting a free car seat inspection during which certified technicians will check your car seat and explain proper installation and use.|
|___||Car seat is not expired. Check the bottom of the seat for an expiration date or contact the manufacturer. Note: Car seats may lose strength as time passes.|
|___||You’ve registered your car seat with the manufacturer so that you’ll be notified of any recalls. Note: Use the form included with the car seat, or fill out this form from the NHTSA.|
|___||Car seat has not been recalled. Note: Check for recalls here.|
Car Seats for Infants (up to 12 months)
|___||Car seat is rear-facing.
You can consider a convertible, all-in-one or three-in-one version that transitions to different seats as your child grows, but it won’t be as portable as a car seat that’s rear-facing only, and it may expire before your child grows out of the seat.
Car Seats for Toddlers (1 to 3 years old)
|___||If child is below the manufacturer’s height and weight limit: Rear-facing car seat.|
|___||If child has outgrown rear-facing seat: Forward-facing car seat with a harness.
Keep the child rear-facing as long as possible, and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. After the child outgrows an infant car seat, you can switch to a convertible, three-in-one or all-in-one car seat in a rear-facing position. Consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for learning when to switch from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat.
Car Seats for Young Children (4 to 7 years old )
|___||If child is below the maximum height and weight limit that the manufacturer allows: Forward-facing car seat with a harness.|
|___||If child has outgrown car seat but isn’t ready to stay seated properly in a booster seat: Car seat with higher limits for children’s size.|
|___||If child has outgrown car seat and can stay seated properly in a booster seat: Booster seat in the backseat.|
|___||Booster seat when used has a high back if the vehicle has a low back seat that doesn’t provide support for the child’s head through the seat back or headrest.|
Car Seats for Older Children (8 to 12 years old)
|___||If child doesn’t fit in seat belt properly: Booster seat or high-back booster seat if the vehicle has low seat backs.|
|___||Child rides in back seat with seat belt if child can do so safely. (See checklist below.)|
Seat Belts and Children
Around age 8 to 12, your child may be ready to sit in the back seat with a seat belt instead of booster seat if:
|___||Lap belt lies snugly across upper thighs, not stomach.|
|___||Shoulder belt lies snugly across shoulder and chest, not the neck or face.|
|___||Child is tall enough to sit without slouching, and can keep their back pressed against the seat.|
|___||Child can keep knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle’s seat, and keep feet flat on the floor.|
|___||Child doesn’t put shoulder belt under both arms or behind his or her back.|
Just because a child may be ready for a seat belt in one vehicle doesn’t mean that another vehicle will work as well for the child. Always check to make sure that your child is properly secured in each vehicle.
For help selecting a car seat, check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Ease-of-Use Ratings here.