2021 Guide to Car Seat Safety
Some estimates say that up to 90% of parents either install or misuse their car seats. Even if you are just going down the street, your child must be as safe as possible. In fact, most accidents occur within a 5-mile radius of your home. Our 2021 car seat guide will walk you through the best and safest ways to drive with your kids in the car.
Car Seat Safety For Your Child
Infants and Babies Car Seat Safety
There are several options for car seats for your infant. You can use an infant-only, convertible, or all-in-one car seat. Regardless of which one you select, make sure it is installed properly and securely and that your baby fits in it well.
Infant-Only Car Seat
An infant-only car seat is designed for babies up to 22 to 40 pounds, depending on your model. They are portable and attach to your seat through a base that you install in your car. These can be used only in the rear-facing position. This seat should last your baby through most of their first year, sometimes as long as 18 months, depending on the model and your baby’s size.
Convertible Car Seat
A convertible car seat is stationary and has to remain in your car. It has a higher weight limit, upwards of 40-60 pounds depending on the model. They can be either rear- or forward-facing. This type of car seat can be used from infancy to when your baby is an older toddler. You do, however, need to be careful of these car seats with newborns. Ensure that your new baby isn’t too small for the convertible car seat, and they fit in it snugly.
All-In-One Car Seat
An all-in-one car seat is also known as a 3-in-1. It goes from being a rear-facing seat to being forward-facing, then finally to a booster seat. It, too, is stationary. An all-in-one seat will take your child from the time that they are babies until they no longer need a booster. However, not every all-in-one car seat is suitable for a newborn, so consult your owner’s manual before using it for a tiny infant.
Toddlers and Preschoolers Car Seat Safety
The rule of thumb with car seats used to be that you turn your child’s car seat to face the front when they reach one year old. However, times have changed, and that is no longer recommended. If you use an infant-only car seat your child’s entire first year and want to switch to a convertible or all-in-one seat, you can do so, but make sure that they remain rear-facing. The convertible and all-in-ones are typically made to accommodate toddlers and preschoolers in the rear-facing position for 2-3 years, depending on your particular model's weight limit.
When your child has reached the weight to allow the car seat forward-facing, make sure that you tether it to the seat to make it more secure. It is advised that you keep your young child in the forward-facing car seat until they reach the maximum weight listed in the owner’s manual. This can be up to 65 pounds.
Car Seat Safety for School-Age Children
When your child has exceeded the weight limit for the forward-facing car seat, it is time to move them to a seat belt-positioning booster seat. They will need to stay in the booster seat until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. This typically is sometime between the ages of 8 and 12.
When your child doesn’t need the booster seat anymore, they should always use both the lap and shoulder seat belts for the most protection. It is also recommended that your child sits in the back seat of the car until they are at least 13 years old.
How to Install a Car Seat Properly
Having your car seat installed properly is just as important as buckling your child in safely and securely. There are four main steps to making sure that your child’s car seat is installed correctly.
Install in the Backseat
The car seat should always be installed in the back seat. That is the safest spot for your baby. If you can, put the car seat in the center seat. If not, it is fine behind either the driver or passenger side. The important thing is that it is in the back, away from the airbags. Even in a minor crash, airbags can seriously injure your little one.
There should be no more than an inch of wiggle room. It is too loose if it moves more than an inch forward, backward, or to the side. A good test is to push down on the top edge of the car seat. If the back of the seat stays at the same angle, your car seat should be tight enough.
Anchor to the Car
If you drive a car made in 2002 or later, it should have a LATCH system, which has anchors for you to attach your car seat to. To use the latch system located in the backseat of your car, you first locate the anchors in the seat of the car, then attach the car seat to it using the car seat anchors. Make sure to tighten the straps so that the car seat doesn’t move more than an inch in any direction. It is recommended to either use the LATCH system or seat belt to strap your car seat in, but not both.
Get It Checked
Even if you think that you have installed your car seat perfectly, it doesn’t hurt to get it checked by someone who is up to date with the most recent safety standards. You can get it checked at a police station, fire station, or the hospital you delivered your baby to.
Top Car Safety Tips
Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. Most car seats will allow you to keep your child rear-facing until they are around 3 years old. Go by the height and weight limits listed in the manual for your particular car seat model.
Use a booster seat until your child can pass the 5-point test: 1. Their back should reach the back of the seat. 2. Their knees should form a 90-degree angle at the edge of the seat. 3. The lap belt should sit on top of their thighs, not on their stomach. 4. The shoulder belt should remain between their shoulder and neck. 5. They should be big enough to sit up without playing or slouching.
Tether your forward-facing car seat. Whether you secure your forward-facing car seat with the seat belt or anchors, make sure to tether the top of the car seat to the anchor behind the seat of the car. This will make it much more secure and help prevent your child from lurching forward as much in a crash.
Keep car seat straps snug and in the right position. The straps of your car seat should be snug to keep your child from slipping through in the event of a crash. In a rear-facing car seat, the straps should be positions at or below the shoulder line. In a forward-facing car seat, the straps should be at or above the shoulders.
If possible, have your child in the center seat. Research has shown that the center is the safest. If you have two children in the back seat, keep the oldest in the center seat, as the car seat should protect the youngest.
Remove coats before buckling your child in. Even if it is frigid outside, it’s important to remove any extra bulk before putting your child in their car seat. The extra bulk can make the straps seem tight when they really aren’t. In the event of a crash, it is more likely that your child could get hurt from slipping through the straps if they have a bulky coat on. If you are worried about your child staying warm, put a blanket over their lap on top of the buckled straps.
Everyone has a seat and a seat belt. Even if you are just going down the street, it is of the utmost importance to make sure that everyone is buckled into a seat. This applies to adults too.