How to Keep Your Child Safe in Their Car Seat

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car seat tips - mother buckling baby into car seat

Parents and caregivers do their best to protect children in the car, but they may still unknowingly endanger their children by putting them in the wrong seat or not securing them properly.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

  • Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1-13
  • 37% of children killed in car crashes are unrestrained
  • 59% of car seats are used incorrectly

Safety recommendations can vary based on a child’s age and size, so it’s essential to ensure a child is properly equipped for a safe and secure ride. In honor of National Child Passenger Safety Week (but important all year), here are a few car seat tips from AAA.

Car Seat Tips

  • Find the right car seat. Types of seats vary based on their age, weight and height. Click here
  • Install your car seat correctly. Review instructions and video tutorials.
  • Get your car seat inspected. Availability may vary due to COVID-19. Click here
  • Ensure safety belts fit properly every time. The placement of the safety harness or seat belt can be critical.
  • Register your car seat. Sign up for recall notices to receive safety updates.

Which seat should I use?

If you’re not sure when to move your child to the next type of car seat, look to these stages:

Rear-facing safety seat: Children should stay rear-facing as long as possible, up to the limits of the car safety seat. This includes almost all children under 2.

Forward-facing safety seat, with harness: Many seats can take children up to 60 pounds or more. When they are ready and exceed the seat’s limits, move to a belt-positioning booster seat.

Belt-positioning booster seat: Use until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly—generally when children are at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall (usually 8 to 12 years old).

Front seat versus back seat: All children younger than 13 should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

State Law: In North Carolina, a child less than eight years of age and less than 80 pounds in weight shall be properly secured in a weight-appropriate child passenger restraint system which meets federal standards. A child less than five years of age and 40 pounds must be secured in the rear seat of the vehicle, unless the child restraint system is designed for use with air bags. If no seating position equipped with a lap and shoulder belt to properly secure the weight-appropriate child passenger restraint system is available, a child less than eight years of age and between 40 and 80 pounds may be restrained by a properly fitted lap-only belt.

In South Carolina, children from birth to two years of age must be secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system which meets federal standards in the rear vehicle seat until the child exceeds the height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the child restraint being used. Children at least two, or under if they’ve outgrown their rear-facing seat, must be secured in a forward-facing child passenger restraint system with a harness in the rear vehicle seat until the child exceeds the height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the child restraint. A child at least eight years of age or at least 57 inches tall may be restrained in an adult safety belt if the child can be secured properly.

Additionally, AAA recommends that children use a safety seat until they are at least 4’9” tall, and pass the “Seat Belt Fit Test”

The Seat Belt Fit Test

  1. Your child’s knees bend at the edge of the seat when the back and bottom are against the vehicle seatback. Feet should touch the floor for comfort and stability.
  2. The vehicle lap belt fits snugly across the hips or upper thighs.
  3. The shoulder belt fits across the shoulder and chest, NOT across the face or neck.

If your child does NOT meet all three conditions, your child should continue to use a car seat or booster seat. You can do the test again when your child grows a little.

Common mistakes

Moving out of a booster seat too soon: Use booster seats until seat belts fit properly—when children can sit with their back against the seat, knees bending at the edge of the seat and feet touching the floor.

Not installing the car seat tightly enough: The car seat shouldn’t move side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch at the belt path.

Harness straps too loose: Harness straps should lay flat without twists. Be sure the harness is snug enough that you can’t pinch any extra material at the child’s shoulder.

Driver or other passengers not buckled up: Everyone in the vehicle should always ride safely buckled up. Kids are watching their parents and learning.

Should I buy a new or used car seat?

Sure, it’s nice to save by buying it used. But it’s not always a good idea, especially with car seats. Here are four reasons you should always buy a car seat new:

  1. The used car seat may be worn or damaged, and it won’t offer maximum protection in a crash.
  2. Used car seats may have been recalled due to defects. Using a recalled seat puts your child at risk. When you buy your new seat, register it using the model number on the seat’s label. You can call the number listed on the label, or register the seat online. You’ll be notified if your car seat is recalled.
  3. Just like eggs or yogurt, car seats can expire. An expired car seat could fail in a crash because the materials deteriorate over time. Find the expiration date at the bottom or back of the seat.
  4. Used seats may be missing key parts, and there are many—hardware, straps, clips, instruction manuals and more. If some parts are gone, that makes the seat less effective in a crash.

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