FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The safest car seat is the one that fits your child properly, is easy to use, and fits in your vehicle correctly.
Car seats are only effective if used correctly. NHTSA estimates that 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly.
All car seats rated by NHTSA meet Federal Safety Standards & strict crash performance standards. While all seats on the market are safe, they do differ in their ease of use in four basic categories:
- Evaluation of Instructions: Examines the content and clarity of the instruction manual for the restraint.
- Vehicle Installation Features: Examines the ease of using features that pertain to installing the child restraint in a vehicle.
- Evaluation of Labels: Examines the content and clarity of the labeling attached to the child restraint.
- Securing the Child: Examines the ease of using features that pertain to securing a child correctly in the restraint.
Rest assured that all car seats meet the same federal safety standards.
The best car seat is one that:
- Fits your child;
- Fits your vehicle;
- Fits your budget;
- And you will use it correctly every trip!
To find the right fit for your child, visit AAA’s Car Seat guide for up-to-date recommendations based on the age, height, weight, and maturity level of your child.
To learn how to properly install your seat in your vehicle, enlist the help of a professional. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians pass rigorous training and will help teach you to install your car seat correctly. To find a free inspection near you visit seatcheck.org.
Car seats vary in price. The price you pay for your car seat is not a reflection of how much you love your child.
Yet it is important to ensure the car seat has not expired and is not on the recall list.
And finally, make sure you buckle your child incorrectly! Examples of common mistakes include not ensuring that the harness straps are (1) at the correct height for your child (2) tightened snugly (3) connected by a chest clip that is at armpit level.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for all children. Child restraints, or car seats, reduce the risk of injury by 71% to 82% and reduce the risk of death by 28% in comparison to children in seat belts alone. Booster seats reduce the risk of nonfatal injuries by 45% among 4 to 88-year-olds when compared to the seat belt alone.
All vehicle occupants need to be properly restrained by seat belts or child safety seats to prevent injury in case of a sudden stop, swerve or crash. Seat belts and car seats contact the strongest parts of the body, spread crash forces over a wide area, help slow down the body and protect the brain and spinal cord.
Visit AAA’s Car Seat Guide to find the right seat and fit for your child.
Rear-facing car seats, which support the head, neck and spine, are designed to distribute the crash forces across the shell of the car seat.
To protect your child, keep them rear-facing for as long as possible, at least until age 2. Babies under age 2 simply aren’t yet strong enough to withstand strong crash forces without the extra protection that a rear-facing car seat provides. Turning a child under age 2 to a forward-facing position can result in head, neck or spinal cord injuries in the event of a crash or a sudden stop.
Don’t rush! Remember, each time you “graduate” your child to the next seat, there’s a reduction in the level of protection for your child, so keep your child in each stage for as long as possible.
When your child outgrows their infant-only bucket seat, it’s time to use a convertible car seat – a seat that can be used in a rear-facing position, and when they’re older, in a forward-facing position.
When your child reaches the height or weight limit of the convertible seat, it’s time to switch to the forward-facing position.
Your child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harnesses, which is typically between 40 and 65 pounds. Read your forward-facing car seat’s owner’s manual to determine height and weight limits, and keep your child in a harnessed seat for as long as possible.
Children at this stage are not yet ready for adult safety belts and should use belt-positioning booster seats until they are at least 4’9″ and between 8 and 12 years old. Safety belts are designed for 165-pound male adults, so it’s no wonder that research shows poorly fitting adult belts can injure children.
Don’t Skip a Step
- A child who has outgrown the internal harness or height limitations of a forward-facing child safety seat.
- Within the range of 40 to 80 pounds but under 4’9”. Within 4 to 8 years of age and is at least 35” tall.
- A child who cannot sit with their back against the vehicle seat with their knees bending at the edge of the seat cushion without slouching.
- A child who does not fit properly in the vehicle belt system.
Prior to Installation
- Be sure to complete and return your registration card to the manufacturer to be notified of any possible recalls.
- Always read the vehicle owner’s manual and child safety seat instructions prior to installing the booster seat in your vehicle.
- Belt-positioning boosters must be used with a lap/shoulder belt. A lap belt only does not provide upper body protection for your child. Shoulder belt retrofits can be completed in most vehicles that have lap belts only, contact your dealer for more information.
- A backless belt-positioning booster may be used in vehicles which have a head restraint present for your child. High-back boosters can be used in vehicles with or without head restraints present.
How to Use Your Booster Seat
- Remember, the safest place for all children 12 years old and under is the back seat!
- Place the booster seat on the vehicle seat. Once your child is sitting in the seat will fasten the lap/shoulder belt around him/her. Many models offer safety belt positioners to help keep the shoulder portion of the belt positioned correctly.
- Only install the belt-positioning booster seat with the LATCH or tether system, if allowed by both the vehicle and car seat manufacturer.
- The shoulder belt should never be placed behind your child’s back or under their arm.
Once your child outgrows a forward-facing child safety seat, they are not quite grown enough to properly fit in a safety belt, and should use a belt-positioning booster seat until they are at least 4’9″ and between 8 and 12 years old.
Children at this stage are not yet ready for adult safety belts, which are designed for 165-pound male adults. A belt which does not fit properly can ride up on your child’s stomach and cause internal organ damage or neck/head injuries.
Booster seats are “pre-crash positioners” that help raise your child up to position the lap portion of the safety belt across your child’s hips/upper thighs and the shoulder belt low across your child’s chest and collarbone allowing for proper protection. In fact, studies show that using a booster seat can reduce risk of injury in a crash by 45 percent over a seat belt alone.
Don’t rush! Each time you “graduate” your child to the next seat, there’s a reduction in the level of protection for your child, so keep your child in each stage for as long as possible.
Many children are eager to leave their booster seats behind and sit in a seat belt like a “big kid.” Many state laws leave children vulnerable, allowing children as young as 5 to ride this way.
It’s important to remember that seat belts are designed for 165-pound men. They simply aren’t designed to fit kids – and can cause injury or death in the event of a crash if they don’t fit properly. A seat belt will properly fit a child when they reach 4’9” tall, typically between the ages of 8 and 12.
Out-of-position lap belts can cause serious injuries to the liver, spleen or intestines. Additionally, as a child’s upper body jack-knifes over a high-riding lap belt, the spine may pivot and fracture, resulting in paralysis.
Your child is ready to ride with a seat belt after passing the “Five Point Test”
- Does your child sit all the way back against the seat?
- Do your child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat without slouching?
- Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
- Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
- Can your child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, your child should still ride in a booster seat. If they pass the test, they’re ready for a seat belt.
The lap belt should fit the child low across the hips and thighs, not across the abdomen.
The shoulder belt fits across the collarbone and chest. It should not cut into a child’s abdomen or neck.
Children under age 13 should be properly restrained in the back seat.
Teenagers should wear lap and shoulder belts in every seating position in a motor vehicle.
ALWAYS require safety belt use for all passengers and model good behavior. Make car safety a family habit!
To keep them as safe as possible, children under 13 should ride in the rear seats, even if they have graduated from a booster seat to a seat belt.
If a child must ride in the front seat, the vehicle seat must be moved back as far as possible. Caregivers should avoid putting car seats in the front passenger seat because of the presence of airbags. If the car only has two seats, caregivers should disable front passenger airbags before placing a child passenger seat in the front (check your vehicle’s owner’s manual). This should only be used as a last resort.
(This information is courtesy of: https://exchange.aaa.com/safety/child-safety/car-seats/car-seat-faqs/#.XML2VkjYWUl)
As a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, AAA works to promote public safety through lobbying activities and educational programs.