GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR USING SAFETY SEATS
Children Under Age 1 and less than 20 pounds:
Infants must ride in the back seat of the car facing rearward until they are a minimum of age 1 and 20 pounds. Many infant only seats are equipped to accommodate children only up to 20 pounds.
However, more babies are reaching 20 pounds before the age of one. If this happens to you, you should buy a convertible seat (for use facing both backward and forward) with a rear-facing weight limit of 30 or 35 pounds and keep the child facing backward until they have reached this weight limit.
Keep harness straps snug. You should be able to fit no more than one finger between your baby's collarbone and the straps.
Harness straps must be at or below your baby's shoulder level. If you find that even when putting the harness straps through the lowest slots, the harness straps are above the baby's shoulder level, you should not continue to use that seat until the baby grows into it.
Make sure the plastic retainer clip is placed at the baby's armpit level. The retainer clip is used to hold the straps in place so they can effectively hold your child down in the event of a crash. (The above picture is of a Fisher-Price Safe Embrace which does not require a retainer clip for rear-facing installations.)
It is extremely important to recline a rear-facing seat at a 45-degree angle for an infant. If the baby is sitting up any straighter, especially when very young, the head could fall forward and cut off its ability to breathe. As your child gets older, the seat can recline between 30 and 45-degrees.
If you use a convertible seat, avoid using seats with T-shields (hard plastic triangles near the buckle) or seats with trays. These could injure small children in a crash, and often allow too much space between the straps and the child. Seats with a 5-point harness system are recommended.
Do not attach extra padding or dangling toys to the safety seat. These toys could harm your child if you were involved in a crash. Extra padding puts too much space between the baby and the car seat, and has not been crash tested.
Children Over Age 1 and Between 20 and 40 pounds
These children should be facing forward in the back seat of the vehicle, after they have reached the maxium weight limit for a rear facing convertible seat. Many convertible or forward facing seats have a "foot" or recline arm at the back of the car seat's base. Flip that out to help stabilize the seat. If your car seat has a lever at the front of the seat to adjust the angle, adjust it so that the seat sits completely upright.
Harness straps should go through the slots at or above shoulder level. Most car seats have a reinforced plastic hump or bar in the back. If yours does, then the harness straps must go over that bar and through the top slots.
Make sure that the retainer clip rests at armpit level.
If your car seat is equipped with a tether strap on the back, use it. Tether straps cannot be used for rear-facing seats, but should be used for children facing forward to limit the amount of space that your child's head will come forward in a crash. Consult your driver's manual to see if you have anchor points in your vehicle to attach a tether strap to, and follow your manufacturer's instructions.
For more information on the use of tether straps and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) universal attachment system, click on the Hot Topics section of our Home Page.
Children over 40 pounds
Often around age 4....children at this point should be placed in booster seats as long as they are under 4 feet 9 inches tall. Do not place them in a seatbelt alone. Seatbelts are made to fit adults, not small children.
Booster seats raise children up so that the lap and shoulder belt fit them properly.
The lap portion should fit snugly and low over the hips. A lap belt that comes across the child's stomach could cause internal injuries in the event of a car crash. The shoulder strap should come across the child's chest, not his or her neck.
There are two types of booster seats: high back boosters and shield boosters. High back booster seats look like a chair with no legs, and are generally considered safer than shield boosters.
Use high back boosters with their harness strap systems for children between 30 and 40 pounds. Remove the harness system for children over 40 pounds, and use the booster seat with a lap and shoulder belt.
Never use a device that looks like a sling to pull a shoulder belt away from your child's neck. If used, the "sling" also pulls the lap belt up to rest on the stomach area, which could result in organ damage during a crash. And never put a shoulder belt behind the child's back.
Once the middle of the back of your child's head is above the top of the high back booster seat, it is safe to move them into a seatbelt.
If you have lap belts only in the back seat of your car, never use a booster seat with the lap belt only. It is more dangerous to do that than to place your child in just the lap belt without the booster.