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Car Seats and Booster Seats - Ages and Uses

Published July 10, 2012        by Sarah

No matter what it comes to, we want our kids to be safe. With a new baby, we make sure their crib, furniture, toys and even baby clothes are safe. We examine their rocking horses as they grow older, and we baby proof our homes to keep them from harm. So why would we take any chances when it comes to car seats in our vehicles?

Perhaps the youngest of parents don’t remember the pre-car seat days but plenty of us recall never being in a car seat when we were young. The first car seats were made to keep a child in place while the car was moving, but not in the event of an accident. It wasn’t until the 1960s that manufacturers started toying with rear-facing car seat designs.  By 1984, half of children age 0 – 4 were in some sort of car seat.  Today, all 50 states have child restraint laws and hospitals won’t let parents leave without first inspecting the child seat.  This is a great step towards safety for children, but it can also be confusing. When does your child have to be in a seat? For how long?

The specific laws vary depending on where you live; in Florida, for instance, a child must be in a car or booster seat until at least age 3. In Wyoming and Tennessee, children have to be 8 before they can use a regular seatbelt.  Make sure you know the laws for your particular state.  Be aware, though, that other states’ laws apply to you when you are visiting or driving through them.

In general, though, there are some guidelines to follow when purchasing and using car and booster seats.

  • Look for seats that accommodate your child’s weight, age, and height.
  • In most states, you must use a rear-facing car seat for babies under 1 year of age and under 20 pounds.  New recommendations suggest leaving the child facing rear as long as he is comfortable (most babies want to turn around at about 1 – 1½ years).
  • Children age 4 – 7 should have a forward-facing car seat with a harness (not a bar).
  • All states excluding Florida, Arizona, and South Dakota require children to have a booster seat when they outgrow an infant/toddler car seat.
  • Children should be in a booster until they can wear a seat belt properly.  The lap belt must lie across your child’s upper thighs, not stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, not the neck. Incorrect seat belt fit can seriously injure or even kill children.
  • The best place for child seats is in the back seat.
  • All children under age 13 should ride in the back of the car.
  • If you are in an accident, even a small fender bender, it is important to replace your car seat before you next use it.  Why?  The plastic can be weakened, even from a minor accident, compromising safety if there is another accident. In other words, the seat did its job to protect baby this time; get a new one if there is a next time.
  • It is recommended that you replace your car seat after 5 years.  So, if you have a 5 year old and plan to reuse her seat with a new baby, it would probably be better to get a new one.  Safety features advance, and the plastic and harness parts can weaken over time.

Image by abbybatchelder on FlickrFirst time parents, and even “old-timers” often need help in choosing and installing their car seats.  You can contact your local hospital to see if the seat you have purchased is approved and meets state safety standards. You can also find a car seat inspection station near you; these are typically located in hospitals, rescue services, and police and fire stations. You can find a location using this tool from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This is useful because you can learn the right way to install the seat, as well as how to position your child and fit the restraints properly.  This is crucial for optimal safety.

Many people think, “I didn’t need a car seat when I was a baby.”  But today, there is far more congestion; cars go faster; there are more accidents; and cars are not made like tanks like they used to be.  Since the 1970s, car seats have saved thousands of lives; it is well worth the investment.

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