Child Car-Seat Safety Guidelines

Consumer Reports recently published results of a car seat safety study they ran, after previous tests revealed unsafe car seats that were later recalled.

So what does this mean? Are car seats really safe or more dangerous than expected? Well, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), child safety seats are 71% effective in reducing deaths for infants and 54% effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 years. Belt-positioning booster seats reduce the risk of injury by 59% for children ages 4 through 7 years.

To help you make heads and tails of the whole child car seat safety issue, we’ve pulled a few important tips and online resources for you.

Types of Booster Seats

  1. Here are the general guidelines for car seats from the NHTSA.
    • Rear-facing seats: in the back seat from birth to at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds.
    • Forward-facing seats: in the back seat from age 1 and 20 pounds to about age 4 and 40 pounds.
    • Booster seats: in the back seat from about age 4 to at least age 8, unless 4’9” tall.
    • Safety belts: at age 8 and older or taller than 4’9”. All children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat.
  2. Still not sure about what type is best? Visit the NHTSA Child Passenger Safety website for more information.
  3. Ready to buy a car safety seat? Consider reading NHTSA’s ratings before making a purchase. You can purchase the seat at bigbox stores, some department stores or other children’s retail outlets.

Safety Starter Tips for Car Seats

  1. For more tips, visit the links listed below in Additional Resources. Look for safety tips like the following:
  2. Each car seat and vehicle type is different. Be sure to read the instruction manual for your car seat and the owner's manual for your vehicle before your first ride with a new baby.
  3. Not all car seats can be installed securely and snugly in all vehicles. When installed, make sure your car seat doesn't move more than 1" either forward or backwards or side-to-side. A loose fit can be dangerous.
  4. The safest place for your child's car seat is in the back seat of the vehicle. This is the area that is most protected from the impact of a crash.
  5. In the summer, parts of your car can heat up enough to burn. Vinyl and metal can burn to the touch, so try to always cover them with a blanket in the sun. Also remember that metal seatbelt latches can burn small hands.

Safety Seat Inspection Stations

Need help with your booster seat? Want to make sure you’re using it correctly?

There are Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians who trained in installing car safety seats properly and work at child safety seat inspection stations around the country.

To find a Safety Seat Inspection Station in your area, visit NHTSA or Seatcheck.org.

WHN TIP: Traveling or using a rental car?

You can also rent a car seat along with your car - costs will range between $2-10. Ask the rental car company to help you properly install your car seat - they may have trained car seat installers on staff.

Additional Resources

  • Child Passenger Safety Program
    A site hosted by the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Child Passenger Safety Program offers general consumer information about car seat safety, lists the state booster seat requirements and also features a child safety seat inspection station locator. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under the U.S. Department of Transportation, sets and enforces safety performance standards for motor vehicles and investigates safety defects. NHTSA also conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety.
  • Buying a Safer Car for Child Passengers (pdf)
    This guide covers general child seat use information, safety features for child passengers and other factors to consider when purchasing a car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under the U.S. Department of Transportation, sets and enforces safety performance standards for motor vehicles and investigates safety defects. NHTSA also conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety.
  • Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families 2008
    An extensive guide to correct seat usage, safety tips and a general guide to car seats listed by manufacturer, size limits and price. The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental, and social health and well- being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
  • Seatcheck.org
    SeatCheck is a national campaign to help parents properly secure their children in motor vehicles and offers an inspection locator, information on state child passenger laws and other general safety tips. The site is run by DaimlerChrysler and other supporting partners include NHTSA, Graco and AAA.