As a parent, you have many responsibilities. One of these is making sure that your child stays safe when riding in the car – starting with that first ride home from the hospital or birth center. Being informed and practicing good car seat safety will help keep your child safe on-the-go and in the instance of a car accident or crash.
Choosing the right car seat
Choosing the right car seat depends on the appropriate age, height and weight of the child. The owner’s manual for your car seat and your car seat’s label will provide the height and weight limits for your specific car seat. The different stages of car seats move from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster seat to seat belt. Children from birth up to around age two should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. (This means that your baby’s first ride home from the hospital should be in a rear-facing car seat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.) Then, they should ride in a forward-facing car seat from ages two to about age five. (Again, this typically depends on the height and weight of the child.) From there, a child should be buckled into a booster seat until the seat belt fits them properly without one. You’ll know when the seat beat fits properly if the lap belt lays across the upper thigh and not the stomach and when the shoulder seat belt lays across the best and not the neck. To help you out, take a look at the graphic below from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
With so many options out there, you might get overwhelmed on what choice to make. To help you out, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a handy Car Seat Finder to help make your choice.
Installing your car seat properly
Installing your child’s car seat correctly is very important. We recommend that you practice putting the car seat into and out of the car before taking your new baby home from the hospital or birth center. The NHTSA has a list of Child Seat Instructional Videos that you can watch for further instructions.
If you’re not sure if your car seat is properly installed, they also recommend that you get your car seat inspected. You can go online and find a car seat inspection station near year. A certified technician can inspect your car seat and show you the proper way to install and use it. You can search for a location near you on the NHTSA’s website.
Registering your car seat
It’s a great idea to register your car seat with the manufacturer. This way, you can stay up-to-date on any and all recall and safety notices. Do so by filling out and mailing in the registration card that comes with your car seat, or by registering your car seat online. You can also stay current on all car seat and booster seat recalls by signing up for email updates with the NHTSA.
Using used car seats
Avoid using a used car seat if you don’t know its history. As the AAP points out, a used car seat may be missing important parts or instructions. You can contact the manufacturer to see if you can get the right parts and a copy of the instructions. Also, if the car seat is missing a label with the date and model number, do not use it. Why? You won’t be able to see if the car seat is recalled or know if it’s too old or still recommended by the manufacturer for use. Usually, a car seat expires after six years. In addition, don’t use a car seat that has been involved in a crash.
A few parting words – lead by example. As a parent, always wear your seat belt when riding in the car. Also, never leave your child alone in the car or alone in the car seat outside of your car.