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Basic Car Seat Safety: a refresher cource from CBB Reader Andrea

04/30/2008 at 09:01 AM ET

The feedback we received from Monday’s rear-facing car seat "Op-Ed" piece was so great I asked Andrea if we could republish something she had written on her blog about general car seat safety info. I hope you find it as informative as I did.


by CBB Reader Andrea, Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST)

As those of you who either know me in person or read my blog know, I am passionate about car seat safety, and  I am a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. I have prepared this car seat primer, which I update periodically, to provide basic information and clear up some misconceptions.

Picture_7_2• The child seat’s harness should be snug enough that you can’t pinch any slack at the top of the child’s shoulders. For rear-facing children, the harness should be threaded through the highest slots that are below the child’s shoulders. For front-facing children, the harness should be threaded through the lowest slots that are above the child’s shoulders.

• It’s a chest clip, not a belly clip. The harness retainer clip should be even with the child’s armpits.

Click Continue Reading for more guidelines.

Lscarseat2• The "front facing at 20 lbs AND 1 year" guideline is truly just the bare minimum. The AAP(American Academy of Pediatrics) actually says it’s best to leave achild rear-facing until the maximum weight allowable by the seat.For most current seats, that’s at least 33 lbs. My daughter will berear-facing until she hits 33 lbs or until she outgrows rear-facing byheight. Most children can happily rear-face until age 2 or longer.

• There are seats available that will keep kids harnessed beyond the former standard of about 40 lbs. My son is in a Britax Regent and a Graco Nautilus and will probably fit in the harnesses until he’s about 8. My daughter is in a girly version of the Britax Marathon(pictured left), which will probably last her until 5 or 6, and thenshe’ll inherit the Regent and Nautilus for a couple of years. Thefairly new Graco Nautilus harnesses to 65 lbs and then turns into a good booster. Other higher-weight harnessed seats include the Sunshine Kids Radian and the Safety 1st Apex(but you MUST have high headrests to use this seat, as the headrest isnot reinforced). For the child who’s not likely to reach 40 lbs until 5or 6, seats like the Evenflo Chase or the Evenflo Generations have nice high harness slots and then turn into decent boosters.

Fisherpricesafevoyage• Car seats expire.Yes, it’s true that car seats expire. Most expire after 6 years. Itmakes sense when you think about all the use these things get, theextreme hot/cold temps, etc. Just think what a plastic toy would looklike if you after 6 years of that much use!

• The 3-in-1 seats are NOT "the last seat you’ll ever need" eventhough they may be marketed that way. These seats are great forrear-facing because they have a 35 lb limit, but most kids outgrow theharness by height around age 3 – far too early to use the seat inbooster mode. And the seat doesn’t make a very good booster, becausethe closed belt loops don’t allow the car’s belt to retract easily andthe shape of the seat holds the belt too far from the child, oftenpositioning it on their belly instead of over their thighs, which isthe correct position. I actually had the Alpha Omegafor my daughter (I was seduced by a great price) and had such a hardtime with it (could never get a tight install in any spot in my car)that we replaced it with a Fisher Price Safe Voyage Deluxe (pictured right).

Reifleecejacket• Puffy coats are a no-no because in an accident, they cancompress, causing the child to move more or potentially even slip out.A good rule of thumb – if the harness fits snugly without the coat andyou have to loosen it to buckle up with the coat, it’s too puffy. Wemake my son take his coat off, buckle him in, and then he puts his coaton backwards. He thinks it’s hilarious and it keeps him just as warm.Another good trick is to put the child in the car seat with the coatunzipped, pull the sides of the coat out to the sides of the car seat,and then buckle up. We dress my daughter in a polar fleece jacket, buckle her in, and then cover her with a thick fleece blanket for warmth.

• The 30 lbs. minimum weight listed on most belt-positioning boosterseats allows kids who are WAY too young to sit properly in a booster todo so. Kids should be in a harnessed seat until they are least 4years and 40 lbs., longer if possible. And then they should stay in abooster until they’re between 8 and 12 years old. See below for furtherdetails on when you can safely move your child out of a booster seat.

GracoairboosterWhen is my child old enough/big enough to use just the vehicle seat belt?There is no magic age, height, or weight. NHTSA (National HighwayTraffic Safety Administration) has developed a set of guidelines tohelp parents and caretakers determine when a child can safely use thevehicle seat belt. If your child meets ALL of these guidelines, then heor she can safely use the vehicle seat belt. If one or more of theseguidelines is not met, your child should continue to use a belt-positioning booster (such as the Britax Monarch, Sunshine Kids Monterey, Graco TurboBooster or AirBooster, pictured right) or a harnessed seat.

  1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
  2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
  3. Does the shoulder portion of the seat belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
  4. Is the lap portion of the seat belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
  5. Will the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

Check out Andrea’s blog, Book Mama.

If you have any car seat safety questions, please post them and Andrea will try to answer them!


Check out our reviews of the car seats and boosters that Andrea mentioned:

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Showing 16 comments

stephanie on

Thank you for this info! I am a manager at Babies R us and it seems people look at me like I am nuts when I tell them they need to rf as long as possible. Also the booster seat thing… I see people puttin 1 1/2 yr- 2 yr olds in them and I tell them no. They dont care cuz they meet the weight requirement…. Is it okay if I use this page to inform my guests of this info? thanks!

L on

Great info. I am assuming these guidelines are for infant seats as well as the bigger car seats? I will have to buy a bigger car seat in a few months for my baby and I am wondering which seat is the best for an infant who has grown out of his infant carrier seat?

estelle on

Thank you for including the booster seat info! Most people around here take their kids out of a booster at 5 yrs old because that’s the legal age your child doesn’t have to use any type of car seat in my state. My son is 5 yrs old and very tall for his age and I couldn’t imagine him using just the seat belt. He still seems so small for it. The NHTSA recommends no less than 8 yrs old or 4′ 9″ so that’s what were going for.

Leia on

This post is great! I had been doing SOOO much research trying to find a child seat that has a five point harness for my daughter who is just about to outgrow her convertible car seat (it only goes to 40 lbs and she is very tall). The Britax regent is exactly what I was looking for!

Jean on

Thank you! I have 5 in 5 point harnesses in my suburban (aged 4.5, 3., 2.5, 2, 1), 3 FF and 2 RF. I get told ALL the time how much faster it would be to have all FF and the older 2 in boosters. Maybe, but safer? No way. They’ll stay just as they are for a good long time.

Michael on

The clek booster seat was also reviewed by CBB
http://celebritybabies.typepad.com/reviews/2007/08/magna-clek-a-gr.html
Awesome article, everyone should read it.

Coco on

Thank you for reminding everyone of the important notes about car seat safety.

Another two to remember that I didn’t see:
~Britax latch connectors need to be switched when changing one of their convertible seats from rear facing to forward facing. The longer part of the connector should be up.
~Seats can only be installed with latch to the limits of the car or car seat and then need to be installed with the seatbelt – typically between 40 and 65 lbs depending on the car and seat. Britax seats say 48 lbs. Installing with both is a no-no.

The best car seat is always the one that fits your car and you use right every time.

Bri on

Great info!! I think it is also a good idea to explain the latch AND tether idea. I never knew to use both, and then when I told my friends none of them knew either. I even had my BLVD looked at by the police station and no one said a thing about not having it tethered.

Meredith on

I read this and the last entry on rear-facing carseats and all of the exuberant agreement and found myself wondering how many other moms out there like me were thinking “yeah, but what if your kid HATES being rear facing?” I endured my baby screaming while rear facing in his carseat for the entire first year of his life. (That’s a lot of trips with a crying baby. A lot.) I even ordered a Britax that could safely continue to be rear-facing at a high weight limit so that I could continue to keep him rear-facing for as long as possible. But, then…I just couldn’t take the screaming anymore…. At 14 months and 21 pounds, I turned him around. Facing forward so that he can see me and the road, he’s pretty happy. No more crying. No more dreading every car trip. I feel guilty, but I also feel sane.

Anne on

Can we also add to this the use of aftermarket products and why they’re a no-no? While I am so grateful that CBB has finally addressed car-seat safety in-depth, they do often show promotions or review products that fall into the “aftermarket” category. People may not know how these products affect their car seats.

Christine on

Meredith – I just look at the video like the one posted yesterday of the FF child flying forward and the RF child beside it not moving very much at all. I read somewhere that in injury like that is called internal decapitation – when the skull becomes separated from the cervical spine. It makes me want to RF my 7 and 5.5yr olds!

Trust me – I feel your pain! My oldest hated the car seat. We endured many scream filled car ride with him. Luckily my next 2 were much easier travellers and remained RF longer (my 15month old still is and will remain for awhile)

THANK YOU CBB for posting such important information!!

A CPS Tech too on

THIS INFO IS WRONG: It’s the opposite – The child seat’s harness should be snug enough that you can’t pinch any slack at the top of the child’s shoulders. For rear-facing children, the harness should be threaded through the highest slots that are below the child’s shoulders. For front-facing children, the harness should be threaded through the lowest slots that are above the child’s shoulders.

Anne on

I thought I commented, but maybe not… can we address aftermarket products here as well? Many people don’t know how they can affect a seat or their warranty.

Angie on

This is a good post. I can’t tell you how many reviews I see on car seats with parents complaining about the straps being too short to put on their kid wearing a big winter coat!! Most people do not know you should not use heavy puffy coats in the car seat!

M on

Thank you so much for posting this! I was given a VERY hard time by several different people when they noticed my 18-month-old was still rear-facing, but I knew it was the right thing to do (b/c I went to 3 car seat safety checks-which I highly recommend)!!! Glad to see the correct info on here… :)

georgiasmom on

great series of articles on child safety. I am also a certified car seat technician and I kept by daughter rear facing until she was 3. Parents need to not see each new seat/position as graduating but rather that each seat is exponentially less safe.

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