Car Seat Safety

Author: Kirsten Barber

Proper use of car safety seats helps protect children while in a vehicle. When used correctly, car seats can reduce the risk of death in a collision by as much as 71% ( There are a lot of different options on the market and it can get overwhelming, but the good news is that several resources are available to help parents while their child is in a car seat. 

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Choosing the Right Car Seat

The type of seat your child needs depends on several things, including the child’s age, size and developmental needs. The three different styles of car seats are rear-facing, forward-facing and booster seats. Before committing to a certain car seat, be sure to check that the seat you are purchasing is compatible with your vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides guidance to help parents select the right seat for their child. Parents can also consult any car seat manufacturer’s manual for more information.

After you receive your car seat, register it to stay updated with any recalls or safety updates. Car seats do expire. You can find the seat’s expiration date located on its manufacturer label or the back of the seat. Look for something that says, “Do NOT use this car seat after …” If you still can’t find the expiration date, call the manufacturer to find out.

Installing a Car Seat

No matter what style or brand of car seat you have, every seat should be installed using either your vehicle’s lower anchors or a seat belt to hold it in place. Both methods are safe, but they should not be used at the same time. Your car seat label will tell you when to stop using the lower anchors and switch to the seat belt plus tether method. Continue to use the top tether until the time your child moves to the belt positioning booster seat.

The lower anchors are found in a minimum of two rear seating positions in a vehicle. Each lower-anchor-equipped seating position has two small horizontal bars found in the space between the vehicle seat’s back and bottom cushion. Tethers are used with seat belts to secure car seats once your child reaches a forward-facing seat. Typically, there are a minimum of three tether anchors in a vehicle. The top tether makes your forward-facing car seat extra snug.

Car seats should always go in a back-row seat. If you have more than two children in car seats, place the youngest in the middle seat. When a car seat is installed correctly, it should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than one inch. If you have a rear-facing seat, make sure it is installed at the correct angle. Most car seats have built-in angle indicators or adjusters to assist. It is recommended that children ride in the back seat through age 12 regardless if they are in a car seat or not.

Installing a car seat can be confusing, even with the instructions and your vehicle owner’s manual. If you need assistance or just want to make sure the seat is secure, you can get help at a car seat inspection station. Certified technicians will inspect your car at these sites for free. Fire stations and police departments can typically point you in the right direction as well.

Securing Your Child

Ensure the effectiveness of the car seat by properly fitting your child into it. A properly fitted five-point harness is best. In rear-facing seats, the harness straps should lie flat and should be placed through the slots at or below your child’s shoulders. The harness straps for forward-facing seats should be at or above the child’s shoulders. A seat belt can be used once your child outgrows the five-point harness.

Additional Car Seat Resources:


Photos in this blog are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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