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Using Child Safety Seats Correctly

Child car seats substantially reduce the risk of fatal injury to children in passenger vehicles; however, 3 out of 4 are not selected or installed correctly. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children younger than 15 in the United States. Child safety seats, when installed and used correctly, can prevent injuries and save lives.

To ensure the best protection from a car seat, refer to your car seat manufacturer's instructions for height and weight limits, and read your vehicle owner's manual for installation instructions using the seatbelt or lower anchors, when available. It is also recommended to keep your child in a car seat for as long as possible (while they fit within the height and weight requirements), and sitting in the back seat until they are at least 12 years old. 

As children develop, their age, size and weight determine what type of seat should be used, and if it should be front- or rear-facing. The following guidelines are based on the strictest of state laws and will provide the best protection for your child.

Infants (Birth to 1 year and/or less than 20 pounds):

  • Use a rear-facing, infant-only seat. Seat should be secured to the vehicle by the seat belt or by using the LATCH system.

Infants (Less than 1 year and 20 to 35 pounds):

  • Use a convertible seat facing the rear of the vehicle.
  • Seat should be secured using the LATCH system.
  • Child seat should be reclined at a 45-degree angle.
  • Harness straps should be at or below shoulder level.

Toddlers (1 to 4 years old and at least 20 to 40 pounds):

  • Use a face-forward convertible seat, forward-facing only seat or high back booster/harness.
  • Child should be snug and the harness clip should be at armpit level.

Young Children (4 to at least 8 years old, unless the child is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall):

  • Use a belt-positioning booster or high back belt-positioning booster.
  • Always use the lap and shoulder seat belt.
  • Use the booster in the back seat only.

After every car seat purchase, be sure to register the seat with the manufacturer to stay informed about potential recalls; last year, over 6 million child seats were recalled—only half of which were sent in for repair.

Using a child safety seat correctly is the key to keeping your child safe in case of an accident. View this Ultimate Car Seat Guide for personalized tips for your child. If the seat is not installed properly, it may not protect your child in a crash. However, it only takes one minute to check the seat before you start the ignition. If you are concerned about your car seat's fit or installation, find a local car seat check event and have a professional inspect your seat. 

Child Passenger Safety Week is September 17-23. Learn more about the campaign, and share these safety tips with the drivers in your family.

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