Buckle Up, Baby! Your Car Seat Safety 101

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Driving always comes with a certain amount of danger, but once you have children in the car with you, the risks take on a whole new level of importance. You have the responsibility to do everything in your power to make sure they’re safe.

First and foremost, that means finding the right car seat and using it effectively.

Car Seat Safety Tips

You know you need a car seat, but making sure you buy the right one and use it the right way can be complicated. Here are the five main things you need to know to get it right.

1. Make sure you have the appropriate car seat for the age and size of the child.

Car seats are built to accommodate specific child size ranges, so you’ll need to make a few changes from the time you bring your baby home to the point that they’re big enough for a seat belt only.

Also note that car seats expire, so make sure you check the expiration date when buying a new car seat, and know that you won’t necessarily be able to use the same seat for multiple kids.

According to Consumer Reports, the main types of car seats are:

  • Infant Car Seat – These are designed to be rear-facing and are best for children up to 2 years old, or between 4 and 40 lbs. You’ll know your baby has outgrown an infant car seat when the top of their head rests less than an inch from the top of the seat, or when they grow beyond the weight range recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Convertible Seat – When your kid outgrows the infant car seat, the next step up is the convertible seat. These are designed so that you can start out using them rear-facing (which is safest), then switch them to front-facing once your kid outgrows rear facing. These can therefore last you awhile, from ages 1 up to 8, in some cases, or 20 lbs to 50 lbs.
  • Booster Seat – Once your kid outgrows the manufacturer’s limits for using a forward-facing convertible seat, it’s time to buy a booster seat. These help your kid reach the right height to use the car’s seat belt safely. They’re often used for kids ages 8 to 13, and up to 80 lbs.

While there are some general recommendations for the age and weight ranges for each type of car seat, what’s more important is to pay close attention to the instructions that come with the model of car seat you buy. Go by the weight, height, and age information the manufacturer provides and pay attention to your kid’s growth so you upgrade the moment the time comes.   

Car seats have expiration dates so you may not be able to use a hand-me-down or borrowed one.

2. Only use car seats in the back seat.

The air bags that keep adults safe in the front seat during a crash can be deadly for kids in a car seat. Airbag exposure during a crash makes it twice as likely that a child will have serious injuries. In fact, all children under the age of 13 should sit in the backseat for safety, even if they’ve outgrown their car seats by then.

baby in car seat

3. Follow the instructions for installation.

This part is trickier than it sounds. According to Consumer Reports, almost 80% of all car seats are installed incorrectly. Clearly it’s easier to get it wrong than to get it right.

Carefully follow the installation instructions provided and see if there are videos provided by the manufacturer to provide extra visual instruction as well.

Since this isn’t something worth taking chances on, go get inspected by a certified technician in your area. They’re trained to recognize proper car seat installation, so you don’t have to take any chances.

Pro tip: Many fire stations and police departments will inspect or help install your car seat for free.

4. Make sure you strap your kids in properly.

Getting the car seat in the car correctly matters, but making sure you get your kids into the car seat just correctly is just as important. Experienced paramedic and parent Krystal Kleidon advises the upside down test. If you’re not confident that your child would stay in the seat if you held it upside down with them inside of it, then you haven’t strapped them in right.

Make sure that you get all the straps tight enough and that your child isn’t wearing any bulky clothing that keeps you from being able to get them properly strapped in. The car seat can’t do its job if it can’t keep your kid in place upon impact.

5. Always use the car seat.

The last tip should be obvious, but is still worth stating. Don’t think you can get away with skipping the car seat even on short drives. No matter how far you’re going, make sure you use the car seat to keep your kid safe.  

family road trip car seat safety

Bonus Tips for Kid Car Safety

Car seat safety is important, but there are other things you should be thinking about to keep your kids safe when you’re on the road.

Avoid distracted driving.

Car seats keep your kids safe in case of an incident or crash, but obviously everyone will be safer if you avoid any collisions altogether. Distracted driving is a huge and growing cause of car accidents – and it’s not just about texting. It’s easy to get so comfortable driving that you casually eat, drink, text, or talk to your kids in the backseat while you’re at the wheel. When you do that, you’re putting everyone else in the car at risk, so commit to focusing on the road instead.

Never leave your child in the car.

Especially a hot car. We’ve all heard the horrifying stories of children left in a car on a hot day. In the summer, be especially vigilant about always getting your child out of the car seat when you stop somewhere, even if you’re only running in for a few minutes.

Every day you get in the car with your kids, you’re taking a risk. Everything you do to reduce that risk though can increase their likelihood of getting back home safe each day.