Making sure your kids are as safe as possible in the car is a daunting task, but it’s one that all parents take seriously to protect their little ones. The fact is that cars are dangerous and the safety measures that keep full-size adults protected don’t work as well for smaller bodies.
It’s impossible to take all the risk out of your time in the car, but selecting a suitable booster seat system that works best for your child can help minimize that risk.
But even though everyone agrees that car safety is important, it can be challenging to know what to buy.
What kind of car seat is best? How should it be used? Is my child ready for a booster seat or should they stay in the car seat for now?
These questions are essential, but there are just so many options and resources available to help know what is best for your little one.
In this article, we’ll look at one trustworthy source that we know we can rely upon for fact-based information. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has provided information on what they believe are the best practices for car seats and booster seats.
Complying with State Laws
Before we get into the AAP guidelines, let’s pause to note where state and local laws fit in. As you may already know, there is no federal law mandating how to use car seats. Instead, every state creates its own regulations.
As we read about these AAP guidelines, please note that they may or may not match up precisely with the guidelines in your state. You are always legally obligated to know and follow the laws that apply wherever you live.
Now, let’s dive into the information from the AAP. First, the Academy sets out a schedule that will look familiar to anyone who’s examined this topic before. They specify when a child is ready for each successive step between a car seat and the driver’s seat.
- Newborns should always be in a rear-facing car seat.
- Once a child reaches two years of age or the weight limit for their rear-facing car seat is met (whichever comes first), they may be graduated to a front-facing car seat with a five-point harness system. In California, once a child reaches 40 or more pounds or 40 or more inches tall, they may be transitioned to a front-facing car sear.
- A child should remain in the front-facing car seat until they reach the height or weight limit for that seat. At that time they may be moved up to a booster seat in the back seat of the car.
- Children should remain in the booster seat until they are large enough for the regular seat belt to hold them properly. This is generally when the child reaches 4′ 9″ tall, which we’d expect to occur sometime between the ages of 8 and 12.
- A child should remain sitting in the back seat until they reach at least 13 years of age.
So what we have here is a clear schedule that takes your child from infancy in the rear-facing car seat through being ready for the front seat of a car.
Following Manufacturer Guidelines
Note that many of these guidelines specify that you should follow weight limits set by the manufacturer of your car seat. That means that you’ll need to know what those limits are and invest in a car seat system that makes sense for your child.
For example, you wouldn’t want the maximum weight of your car seat to be 65 lbs if the minimum on your booster seat is 80 lbs – your child would spend some time stuck in the middle without a good option. Spend some time planning out the car seats you’ll use before you buy them.
Best Practices for Car Seats
AAP also lays out some guidelines for how to best use your car seats
- Keep straps tight: When installing your seat and belting your child into the car, always look to keep the straps and belts you use as taut as possible. These straps are supposed to be tightly holding the car seat in place, so the more wiggle room you leave, the less effective they will be.
- Big enough for the real seat: You can quickly test to see if your child is ready to sit without a booster seat by having them sit in a standard passenger seat. If they can sit with their back against the seat, their knees against the edge of the seat, and the seat belt laying across their lap and not their stomach, they’re ready to use your vehicle’s seat belts.
- Register your car seat: When you first buy your car seat, look for a registration service you can sign up for to be notified if there is any recall relating to your purchase. These are not very common, but when they happen, you’ll want to act fast.
- Always use seat restraints: Remember that it is never OK to allow your children to sit loosely in a car. They should never be riding on someone’s lap or sitting in the back of a moving truck. In the event of a crash, you always want to have the appropriate safety restraints in use to keep your child safe.
Make Sure Everyone Understands Car Safety
These guidelines run through some of the critical decisions you’ll need to make in this arena. Always pay close attention as you’re getting your child ready for a car trip.
As they get big enough to move from one car seat to another, make sure you talk to your child about what the restraints are and why they’re important.
Making sure that you all understand car safety will help make the steps you take that much more effective at keeping your family safe.