Baby on Board: Be Car-Seat-Safety Savvy

Car seats can be complicated.

According to research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seven out of 10 children are improperly restrained, putting them at risk for serious injury or death in a crash. Sadly, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 14. But according to NHTSA, using child safety seats properly will reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 though 4.

Experts agree that the safest location a car seat is the center of the backseat of your car but if your back seat has a hump in the middle, it's best to secure the seat to one side. In contrast, the least safe place for a child in a car seat is the front seat of a car. The impact from an inflated air bag can be fatal for little ones.

Be sure to keep and follow your car seat's safety instructions and send in the registration card in case there's a recall. If you already own a car seat and believe you are not registered, find out about recalls by contacting the manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety Hot Line at 888/DASH-2-DOT (888/327-4236) or online at:

Finally, SeatCheck is a national campaign to help parents properly secure their children in motor vehicles. For a listing of more than 4,000 local inspection locations staffed by trained and certified child safety seat technicians who can check your installation, go to: or call toll-free at 1-866-SEAT-CHECK. The service is free and appointments typically last 30 minutes.

Babies Less than One Year and 20 Pounds

Every state requires that children up to the age of 4 ride in a car seat. To ensure your child's safety, you'll likely have to purchase a succession of seats beginning with an infant car seat.

If your baby slouches in his car seat, pad around (never under or behind) him with rolled-up blankets. Avoid using any sort of car safety seat insert unless it came with the seat or was made by the same manufacturer.

Typically, infant car seat weight limits go to 22 pounds. So be mindful of your child's weight. A child who weighs at least 20 pounds or exceeds the height limit for the car safety seat before she reaches 1 year of age should be moved to a seat with higher weight and height limits and continue to ride rear-facing until she reaches the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer.

Forward-Facing Models and Convertible Car Seats

Once a child exceeds the weight limit, it's time to graduate, but don't be in a hurry to turn your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that toddlers are twice as safe in front and side crashes when facing backward. Convertible seats ride rear facing up to 35 pounds or forward-facing up to 60 lbs.

At around age 4 and at 40 pounds, a booster provides less protection than a convertible car seat, so if your convertible can hold a child up to 65 pounds, keep her in it as long as possible.

The LATCH System

Since September 1, 2002, all child car seats with a built-in harness and nearly all passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. have included equipment designed for simpler child seat installation. That system, called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), consists of child car-seat connections that attach to anchor points in the vehicle.

Vehicle safety belts can still be used to install a LATCH-equipped child car seat in an older car that lacks LATCH anchors.


The American Academy of Pediatricians

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Latch Seat Info

Consumer Reports Car Seat Buying Guide