One of your most important tasks as a parent is keeping your child safe – especially when riding in a vehicle. Not only must you purchase a safety seat appropriate to your child’s age, size, and the type of vehicle you drive, but use that seat properly. Approximately 80% of car seats are installed incorrectly.
For any car seat that you purchase, be sure you read the instruction manual completely, and pay attention to government regulated safety tips.
Following are descriptions of the four basic kinds of car seats available:
- Infant-Only/Carrier: These seats are designed for infants in rear-facing position and can also be used as carriers. Usually, these infant seats have a base that attaches directly to the car so that you can carry your baby in and out of the vehicle without having to install the safety seat each time – this is a huge benefit, especially early on when the car is a great place to get a baby to fall asleep. Another benefit of the base system is the ability to have a base in multiple cars while needing only one carrier. Generally short-lived, these car seats can only be used in the rear position and can accommodate babies up to 30 pounds (weight limit varies by manufacturer). The Academy of American Pediatrics provides a guideline that all infants should ride rear-facing until they are at least one year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds – and goes further to recommend that children should ride rear-facing until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer.
- Convertible: This seat can be either rear-facing for smaller, younger infants and can then convert to a forward facing seat once the child is older and weighs the appropriate amount. The major benefit of these seats is that they can be used longer by your child. Additionally, they have higher rear-facing weight and height limits than infant-only seats which makes them ideal for bigger babies. They have three types of harnesses – 5-point, overhead shield, or T-shield. The negatives of convertible seats are that they are bulkier than the infant-only/carrier seats and are not portable.
- Forward Facing: These seats are strictly forward facing for infants who are over 20 pounds (or more based on the manufacturer) and over one year of age. These seats cannot be used for newborns or infants. Children should ride in a forward facing seat with a harness until he/she outgrows it (usually around four years and about 40 pounds). When installing, make sure the safety seat is installed tightly and that the harness fits the child snugly.
- Booster Seats: These seats are to be used only by older children in a forward-facing position as a transition to lap and shoulder belts. Most seats can accommodate children up to approximately 80 pounds. The car seat will either have its own set of harnesses, or it may use the seat belt found in your car. These seats are available in high backs, for use in vehicles with low seat backs or no head restraints, and no-back – booster bases only.
It is important to select a seat that will suit your child’s specific needs. Always keep in mind that there are government regulations restricting the type of car seat you choose based on your child’s age, height and weight. Some seats containing luxury features such as cup holders, reversible fabric (in case they are spilled on or for a different look), and shock absorbing memory foam can provide your child with a more comfortable and enjoyable ride.
Bottom line, the best car seat is not necessarily one that is the most expensive, but is one that fits your child’s size, is installed correctly, and is used properly all the time. Many local fire and police stations will help you position and fasten your seat to ensure it is installed correctly. For further safety information, visit www.nhtsa.gov.