Car Seat Safety: What You Need to Know

09/23/2010 at 10:00 AM ET
Courtesy of Clek

Have you checked your child’s car seat lately?

There’s never been a better time to do it — especially since we’re in the midst of Child Passenger Safety Week, running through Sunday, Sept. 25.

According to Clek, a whopping 92 percent of car seats are improperly installed, a number that’s both frightening and dangerous.

To get the scoop on proper car seat safety, we spoke with Clek founder and president Chris Lumley, who gave us his top tips on ensuring a smooth ride for your little ones:

Don’t rush to “graduate” your child to the next seat. “For infants, rear-facing is safest,” Lumley tells PEOPLE Moms & Babies.

“It’s best to remain rear-facing to the weight and height limits of the car seats. In all cases, infants should be rear-facing until they are both 1 year old and 20 lbs., at the very minimum.”

Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is at least 4’9″. “Vehicles are not built for people shorter than 4 ft., 9 in.,” he says.

Check everything twice. “When using a booster seat,” Lumley says, “always be sure that the vehicle seat is upright and the child is not slouching. Check that the seatbelt is not twisted, and sits low and snuggly on the child’s hips and across the midpoint of the chest as well as across the center of the shoulder.” Make sure there isn’t any slack in the seatbelt, either.

Secure booster and car seats, even when unoccupied. “This prevents them from becoming dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident,” Lumley warns.

Never use a car seat if it’s been in an accident. “If you’re using a secondhand car seat, only use it if you are absolutely positive that it has never been involved in a crash,” he warns. “Accidents may cause damage that you cannot see.”

If you’re unsure, ask. “There are thousands of certified passenger safety technicians that can help you properly install your seat,” he shares. You can find more information at

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cris on

Best advice I ever received about installing my child’s carseat was to put my knee and all of my weight inside the seat as I was tightening the seatbelt…do this and your carseat will not wiggle back and forth at all. It makes me so upset when I see a carseat that is leaning to one side.

Suzanne on

Not only should kids stay rear facing as long as possible, children should be in a 5 point harness as long as possible. A seatbelt can easily be positioned incorrectly with belt positioning boosters leading to serious injuries (like paralysis) and death. And a top tether should always be used to ensure that the car seat stays put in an accident.

A car seat should be installed tightly but you don’t want it so tight that it shakes the car, it should have a tiny bit of give (though no more than an inch of movement in any direction). That give allows the seat to disperse the impact of a crash, if it’s in super tight, your child will absorb the entire force of the impact.

And note the LATCH limits for your car and car seat, it’s generally 40 pounds and at that point you must use seat belt installation (where the top tether is even more critical as seat belts can come undone in crashes, particularly roll over).

My pet peeve is parents (who I know have the financial means) who complain about the cost of car seats. Motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of unintentional deaths of children under 18. Isn’t your kid’s life worth $200-$300?

RHBlair on

I absolutley HATE rear facing car seat….had to be someone with no children to come up with that one. For someone to think that putting an infant away from a parent sight and reach while driving…want to talk about unsafe. Suppose the child starts choking or stops breathing? The parent will not know until they get to the destination which could be hours away. Anything could happen! And it is NOT ok for a mother, alone with her baby, to stop on the side of the road in an unknown neighborhood at night to find out why the baby is crying. Murder, rape, kidnapping, or any number of things could happen.

Infants rearfacing in the back seat was not a requirement when my children were babies (thank God) and as soon as my granchildren reach 20 lbs (which is usually about 6 months) they are in a forward facing carseat.

Erika on

RHBlair- I don’t have children yet, so I don’t really know the whole deal with rear facing and such, but I thought the law (at least in the US) was 1 year for rear facing? Or is it just a suggestion.

I can see how it could be dangerous for purposes of not seeing the baby but they do sell mirrors( that you can see the baby in. I babysat for a friends infant and they had that and it was actually not hard to see the baby at all with the mirror.

I don’t have kids yet, but I just think rear facing sounds safer, if you are rear ended, baby’s head doesn’t fly forward, it is safe in the carseat head rest. If you are in a head on collision the baby is kind of shielded. Once again, I could be wrong, but I’m just under the impression that it is safer?

Tara on

Please do some research and educate yourself on carseat safety. Rear facing is the ONLY safe and responsible choice for infants. A six month old should never be forward facing.

I am so glad that my mother and mother in law follow my wishes even if they didn’t have to do it when they had kids.

Shelby on


That is perhaps the most uneducated, ridiculous comment I’ve ever seen. Thank goodness most moms know about basic car seat safety. I feel sorry for your grandchildren, and if I knew you, I’d turn you in.

Amanda on

RHBlair – God forbid your grandchildren are ever in a car accident… Please do some more research on this issue. There are plenty of test crash videos and demonstrations online that *show* you why rear facing is a requirement. It’s not just for your convenience.

Katy on

RHBlair – watch the below video and then tell me you will be turning your 6 month old grandchild forward-facing…the law is rear-facing until 20 lbs. AND 1 year old at a minimum. My son is 15 months old and still rear-facing. He will continue to RF until he outgrows the weight limits on his carseat.

Extended rear-facing is the best thing you can do for your grandchildren. It could save their life. Just because there were no carseat laws when your kids were little doesn’t mean it was safe to FF at an early age. Over time studies are performed and people learn from their mistakes (which is why new laws are put into place).

Get a mirror so you can see your grandchild!

Natalie on

Wow!! You really need to do some research before you talk about something so important! All babies under 20 pounds AND under 1 year (at the VERY least) should be rear facing!! Im so tired of ignorant people saying, well they didnt have that law when my kids were babies and my kids were just fine, or whatever. Were you in a horrible car wreck with your babies that werent properly restrained? Probably not!! If you worry about not being able to see your baby/grandchild then BUY A MIRROR!! That is why they make them!! Im sorry but those kind of uneducated comments really get me fired up!! Our children rely on us to make the best decisions for them and you are not making the right ones for your grandchildren!!

Annoymous on

RHBlair you said your grandchildren, but what do their parents think? I agree with everyone else, do some more research. I will have my daughter rear facing as long as possible.

Sarah on

WOW @ the excuse of not seeing your baby while rear facing!
BUY A MIRROR. We have one and we can see the baby any time we look back. He is safest in the back rear facing and will remain rear facing until he is at least 2-3 yrs old.

RC on

For everyone talking about those carseat mirrors, take this for what it’s worth: when I was pregnant with my first, we went to our local fire station after installing our carseat to make sure we had done it correctly, and we had the mirror already in place. The fireman checking our car immediately removed the mirror and told us they don’t recommend using them under any circumstances. The rear-facing carseats are designed such that in the event of a crash, the carseat will almost fold up into the rear seat of your car. If that happens, the baby’s head or face could smash into the mirror. Even if the carseat doesn’t fold up into the rear seat of the car, those mirrors are usually flimsy enough so that they will smash into a million pieces if the accident impact is enough and the shards will go everywhere (ie all over the baby, into his mouth or eyes, etc). Just a little FYI!

Jessica on

Rear-facing is the safest place for an infant/small child to be handsdown. My youngest child was rear facing until she was a little over 2. She also has medical issues and did stop breathing while in the car, did I turn her around, heck no! I bought a mirror and checked on her frequently. She had seizures in her seat too, but we kept her in the safest position for her age and size.

I’m grateful her grandparents never fought me on her car seat. She’s 6.5 now and in a LATCHED booster seat.

meg on


Mirrors are not recommended due to the possibility of it coming loose and hitting the child. They don’t make infant car mirrors that are made out of glass!! The reflective surface of my mirror is completely flexible and shatter/break proof. (yes, I have one in my car, because if it comes off it will still be attached to the headreast, and at that point it wouldn’t really matter if there were a mirror there or not).

Erika on

RC- The mirrors I have seen were placed higher than the childs head, tilting down so you can see them. They strap on and if the baby goes forward, their head won’t hit the mirror as the mirror will be above them. I’m sure they sell ones that can be dangerous, but the ones I have seen are always above. And they are shatterproof.

I have also heard of someone putting a baby monitor with the volume all the way up and then having one in the carseat. I don’t know how well it worked, but I thought it was a pretty good idea.

Sarah M. on

I have friends who have their 1 1/2 year old and 2 1/2 year old both in rear facing seats. The older child crosses her legs when she gets in the seat. They plan to keep them that way for as long as their seats allow.

I’m a nanny, and whenever I put a seat in my car for a new child I’m watching, within the first week I stop by the local fire department and have one of the guys check to make sure that it’s installed correctly. Whether mom, dad or myself put it in. No matter how many times I have installed many different seats, this is always done.

I also know another nanny who watches almost 2 year old twins, and both toddlers are still rear-facing. One of them meets both of the reqs for forward-facing, but the other twin doesn’t. I have a feeling both will be rear-facing until their seats no longer allow for that.

Also, it’s more unsafe to try and reach back to soothe the child for more than a few seconds than it is to simply pull over and go into the back seat to do it OR to just let the child cry (I’m not saying this isn’t hard) until you get to your destination if it isn’t that far away.

I believe in Europe the law makes rear-facing a requirement for longer than the first year,, also. Car seats are not made for mom and dad’s convenience, they are made for the child’s safety FIRST AND FOREMOST. As they should be!

Sarah M. on

Also, the law has recently changed from 1 yr & 20 lbs to 2 yrs & 40 lbs. I had heard that they were thinking about changing the law here, and apparently they did not too long ago. I’m glad they did! It keeps the kids safer longer!!

MG on

I have made many 6-8 hour road trips with my daughter before the age of 1. I never used a mirror & she rear faced the entire time. When I traveled by myself, I would plan my trips so that I could stop every hour or so to double check on her, or change her diaper. The stops wouldn’t be very long, just enough to make sure she was ok. We would also never travel at night. As soon as she was 1, her doctor said it was ok to turn her around as she was 22 lbs, she’ll be 2 next month & has been forward facing for almost a full year & we haven’t had a problem. She actually prefers that we recline her seat a bit so that she’s not sitting up so straight. She’s taller than the average 2 year old, she’s already in 4t sizes, but she will remain in the 5 point harness until she outgrows it.

Chloe on

statistically speaking it is 500% safer to rear face your child to the limits of their seat than to turn them early. My son is 15 months and will rear face until 40lbs.

I don’t understand why anyone would risk the safety of their child and turn them before they outgrow their seat knowing it is MUCH safer to rear face.

also I have seen so many kids recently with their chest clips as low as their belly buttons! chest clips are supposed to go at nipple height. It is totally unsafe for them to be that low.

dlock on

This is for all the moms out there that don’t take the time to put their child first! Before I had my son 7 months ago, I did extensive research on car seat safety. And when I am driving around (even now) and see parents with children that don’t have the children’s seats properly installed or the parent has the infant car seat turned forward facing or there’s an infant car seat with 4 kids in the back, so you know there is no way all those kids are properly seated. I could go on…but i won’t. My son is still in his chicco infant car seat but, rides in his Britax Boulevard in his Grandmothers van. I know we will be spending the money on 2 more britax convertible carseats because he will have the room to rearface longer. I will everything possible to make sure my son is safe. It is my duty to protect my son…parents please take time to educate yourselves on safety (all aspects), and please don’t complaing about how much something inconviences you, its not about you anymore.

Brenna on

RHBlair, invest in one of those mirrors that makes it possible to see the child when they are rear facing. I am a nanny and have a mirror for the baby I watch and he is just fine and I check him whenever I look in my rearview which is often. I find it sad you are willing to risk your grandbaby’s life because you can’t see the child when you can easily buy a mirror. If you were my mother you would NEVER watch my child. So selfish! Watch a youtube video on children who have been turned around and hurt.

Natalie on

A side note on mirrors… My best friend was hit by a drunk driver (rear-ended) with her three month old in the back seat. She had and still has problems with her neck but the baby was perfectly fine!! He was RF in the middle of the back seat and they had a mirror up, when they went to check on him there was glass all around him but he didnt have ANY glass on him or in his seat!! The EMT said that it was because the mirror block the glass from hitting him! Just another reason to use a mirror!!

Meg on

My daughter is 15 months and technically I could turn her forward facing, but she’ll be rear facing until she’s too big to do it in her myride 65. My husband is a firefighter and has seen first hand what it does when people decide to not rear face to 1. I won’t ever be taking that chance with my children.

Jasmime on

rearfacing is 500 times safer for babies and children there is no way I would ever think about forward facing a 6 month old baby.

reading the story of Joel who was 18 months olds and 34lbs (so not a small child) and was forward facing and in a car accident and broke his neck ..fortunately he did survive that has given me even more reason to keep my children rearfacing for as long as possible

in Sweden they have been rearfacing since the 1950s or 60s and the majority there RF their children til they are at least 4 years of age.

my children are amost 12 months and almost 3 years and both are rearfacing my oldest wil be till she is at least 4 years old

ashley on

I have a 11year old girl and a 14mos old baby boy. im really glad that i can talk to other parents to get suggestion. thank so much