How to Choose the Right Car Seat for Your Child

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Recently I found myself in a car seat conundrum.

My 5 3/4 year old daughter started looking big for her convertible car seat and many of her friends now ride in a booster.

I was confused on if it was safe to transition her to a booster, so I contacted Erin Malone from www.SafetyinMotion.org, a car seat expert to see if she could give me the scoop!

She wrote an article on How to Choose the Right Car Seat for Your Child at every stage (newborn through age 10 ish), so you can skip below to the age category that applies to you!

Here is what she wrote…

“Walking down the car seat aisle can be an overwhelming experience.

With so many options these days, it’s hard for parents to know what seat is most appropriate for their child. With a few tips, though, the decision can be a lot easier. Here are the main types of car seats and an explanation of who should ride in them.

Rear-facing is the safest way for anyone to ride in the car, but only the smallest among us are able to do that.

In a frontal collision (the most common kind of crash), the shell of the seat takes the brunt of the crash forces—not the child’s head or neck. Children should ride rear-facing until at least 2 years old, preferably longer.

There are two kinds of rear-facing seats: infant seats and convertibles.

Infant seats are the kind that can snap into a base that stays in the car, and they are meant to face the back of the car only.

Convertible seats can face backward or forward depending on the age and size of the child.

A baby can use an infant seat or a convertible, although many parents choose infant seats for convenience. Either option is safe as long as the baby fits well.

Keep in mind that for a rear-facing seat, the harness needs to be at or below the child’s shoulders. If you use a convertible car seat for a baby, make sure the baby’s shoulders are at least even with the lowest harness slots.

When babies outgrow the infant seat, it’s time to move to a rear-facing convertible.

Convertible seats typically have a rear-facing weight limit of at least 35 pounds, and many now go to 40 or 45 pounds.

Almost any convertible seat will keep most children rear-facing until at least 2 years old. If you have a very tall child, make sure you look for a seat that has a tall shell.

A rear-facing car seat is outgrown when the child reaches the maximum weight limit or when the child has less than an inch of shell over his or her head.

Many parents believe that they need to turn a child forward-facing when their feet touch the seatback. That is not true!

There is no safety concern with the child’s feet touching the back of the seat. In fact, leg injuries are almost unheard of for rear-facing children and are one of the most common injuries when forward-facing.

There are three kinds of forward-facing harnessed seats: convertible seats (can go backward or forward), combination seats (has a harness but also turns into a booster seat), and forward-facing-only seats (has a harness and only faces forward, but does not turn into a booster). As long as the child fits properly and the seat can be installed correctly, one type is not any safer than another.

Ideally, children shouldn’t move to a forward-facing seat until they are at least 2 years old.

With a forward-facing seat, the harness needs to come from at or above the child’s shoulders (the opposite of rear-facing).

A forward-facing seat is outgrown when the child reaches the weight limit, OR the child’s shoulders go over the top harness slot, OR the tops of the child’s ears go over the top of the seat’s shell.

It’s best to keep a child in a harnessed seat until he or she is at least 4 years old, although many seats on the market can keep a child harnessed well beyond that.

Booster seats help properly position an adult seatbelt on a child. A booster is a safe option if it allows the lap belt to sit low across the child’s hips (not the belly) and positions the shoulder belt across the middle of the child’s shoulder.

Just as important, a child needs to be able to sit properly without playing with the seatbelt or leaning out of position. Most children aren’t mature enough to sit properly until around age 5, though that will vary by child.

Different boosters fit kids and vehicles in different ways, so try them out to make sure they work well with each child and in each car. Sometimes the fit can even vary by seating positions within the same car.

Regardless of your state’s laws, children should ride in a booster seat until you can answer YES to all of these questions:

 

Does the child sit all the way back in the seat?
Do his/her knees bend naturally at the edge of the seat?
Does the lap belt sit low on my child’s hips, not across the belly?
Does the shoulder belt cross the middle of my child’s shoulder, not falling off and not rubbing his/her neck?
Can he/she sit properly for the entire ride?

Most children won’t fit properly in an adult seatbelt until at least 10 years old.

If the seatbelt doesn’t fit properly (or if the child doesn’t fit well in the seat, which leads to slouching), the seatbelt can actually cause injuries in a crash.

Remember!

The safest seat is one that fits your child and your vehicle, and that you’ll use properly every time.

All car seats need to meet the same safety standards. Some seats have more padding or extra features that make them more comfortable or easier to use, but all seats on the market are safe for your child to use, as long as they fit properly.

Try seats before you buy. Make sure the seat fits your child and your car well. It’s rare for a child restraint to be incompatible with a car, but it does happen.

On rear-facing and forward-facing harnessed seats, make sure the harness is snug, and position the chest clip at armpit level.

Always read your car seat and vehicle manual, and don’t be afraid to call the manufacturer for clarification if you need to.

Never buy a used car seat at a garage sale, second-hand store, or from sites like craigslist. A used seat might be recalled, missing parts, could have been in a crash, or might have been mistreated. If you must get a used seat, make sure it’s from someone who you would trust with your child’s life, like a close friend or relative.

Even if you think you’ve done everything right, make an appointment to have a Child Passenger Safety Technician check your installation.

Almost everyone thinks they have done it right, but more than 80% of seats are used incorrectly. Don’t let your child be part of that statistic!

Erin Malone, MPH, is a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and owner of Safety In Motion. She has a Master’s degree in Public Health and has been dedicated to child passenger safety for over 10 years. Erin offers at-home appointments and also monthly events in Newport Beach and San Clemente in addition to a free car seat safety class every other Friday night at Hoag Hospital.

Contact Erin for dates and details at: 
info@safetyinmotion.org  / 714 264-2924

www.SafetyInMotion.org * www.Facebook.com/SafetyinMotion

2 Comments

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2
  1. 1
    Jen says:

    …and by the way, my daughter, even though she is over 5 1/2, still fits well in her convertible seat as she is petite…

    But now I know she can also safely sit in a booster if needed!

    Thanks Erin!

    Reply
  2. 2
    melissa heuser says:

    I have used erin twice! She gave me peace of mind and was so helpful!

    Reply
 
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