As a parent, selecting the right car seat is one of the most important purchases you will make for your child. Choosing the right seat for your vehicle and your child’s age and size is critical to protecting them from harm in the event of a collision.
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), child restraint systems saved the lives of 6,567 children from 1975-2002. A secure and properly installed car seat can make all the difference when it comes to protecting your child from harm when you are in a collision while they are in the vehicle.
The following are some helpful tips for selecting the right car seat for your child.
- Read Your Owner’s Manual
There are many different types of car seats on the market made by different manufacturers. Be sure to read your vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out how car seats may be installed. Some vehicles have lower anchors and tethers, while others require installation using the seat belt.
It is a good idea to measure the size of the seat and how much clearance you have between the front seats and back seat. You may need to choose a car seat with a narrower base if your vehicle does not have enough room in the back for a seat with a wider base. Knowing your vehicle’s dimensions and how a seat can be anchored in is an important first step in the selection process.
- Know Which Type of Seat You Need
First-time parents are often surprised to learn that car seats are not one-size-fits-all. NHTSA has recommendations for seat-orientation based on age and the weight of the child to keep them safer when traveling. The basic guidelines are:
- Birth to 1 Year (Rear-Facing Infant Seat) – As a rule, infants should be placed in a rear-facing seat. These seats have a harness that is designed to protect your child’s fragile neck and spine in the event of a crash.
- 1 Year – 3 Years (Rear-Facing Convertible Seat) – The best way to keep a child safe in the car is to make sure they stay rear-facing as long as possible. A convertible seat will allow you to keep your child in the rear-facing position for as long as possible until they outgrow the seat.
- 4-7 Years (Forward-Facing Car Seat) – Children at this age should be in a forward-facing seat that is secured with a harness and tether.
- 8-12 Years (Booster Seat) – Once they outgrow the car seat, you can move your child to a booster seat in the backseat of the vehicle. The booster seat is designed to keep the child secure until they are big enough for the seat belt to fit correctly.
- Install the Car Seat Correctly
The final critical step is to install the car seat properly. An incorrectly installed seat will not provide your child the protection that they need, so make sure to read the instruction manual that comes with the seat before attempting the installation.
You should understand all of the components and should take advantage of the numerous installation how-to videos that are readily found on YouTube and the NHTSA website. You should also take advantage of car seat inspection stations near you that provide free assistance from certified technicians. Sometimes firefighters at your local fire department will install the seat for you.
By doing your research ahead of time and selecting the appropriate seat for your child’s age and size, you can rest easier knowing that they are securely fastened in the vehicle when traveling. For more information on child safety seats and what you should look for, read more at NHTSA.gov.