Buckling your child in properly before every car trip is vital. From the day you bring him home from the hospital until he reaches about 4 feet 9 inches, your little one will go through several car seats (or incarnations of one) before it’s safe for him to use your car’s seat belts alone.
Here’s essential information on car seat safety for new parents.
Follow installation instructions from the manufacturer of your car safety seat (check packaging or the manufacturer’s web site) in combination with those in your car owners’ manual.
Remember, the backseat is safest. Your child should ride in the backseat until he is at least 13 years old. The center of the backseat is the best protected, but it’s most important to put your child’s car seat where it can be the most tightly secured in your particular car’s backseat.
Get the right angle. A newborn’s rear-facing seat should be secured reclining at a 30- to 45-degree angle until your baby is able to sit up unassisted (which typically occurs at around 6 to 9 months old). Keep your child in rear-facing car seats for as long as you can find one designed to accommodate your child’s weight and height (at least until age 2; leg length is not a factor—children’s flexibility allows them to sit comfortably with their knees bent, ankles crossed). After that, switch to a forward-facing car safety seat.
Tighten up. A secured car safety seat should not budge more than an inch in any direction at its base.
Say no to bulk. Remove any bulky clothing from your child before strapping him into the car seat. You can cover him with a blanket after he is strapped in.
Ensure a snug fit. When your child is buckled in, adjust the chest clip so that it is level with your child’s armpits and remove slack from the harness so that just one of your fingers can slide in between the strap and his collarbone.
Don’t forget the top. When you must switch your child to a forward-facing safety seat because he has outgrown all rear-facing options, be sure to use a tether to secure the top of the seat, whether you install the safety seat with your car’s seat belt or with a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system.
Know when to move up. Keep your child in a safety seat with a 5-point harness until he is at least 4 years old, weighs 40 pounds, and is mature enough to sit still while riding in a booster seat. After that, strap him into a booster seat until he is 4 feet 9 inches tall (a height typically reached around age 8).
By Katherine M. Tomlinson