car seat safetyDid you know that most people think they are using the right car seat for their child? They are not! Four out of five car seats are used/installed wrong!

Child safety seats are required by law in every state because they provide the best protection for infants and young children. Installing a car seat, however, can be challenging due to the wide variety of restraint systems, seat belt systems, and vehicles today.


Some guidelines to observe:

  • The car seat must be appropriate for your child’s age, height and weight.
  • The car seat must fit tightly into your vehicle and not move more than 1 inch from side to side.
  • The back seat is the best place for a child.
  • Car seats expire! Most manufacturers recommend replacing any car seat over 6 years old – check the labels on your car seat and the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • New car seats will have a registration card – fill this out and mail it in.  This way you will be notified if there is a recall.
  • Remember that hard toys and other objects can become projectiles during hard braking or crash situations.

Car seats can be installed with seat belts or the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system – never both. You will need to read the vehicle manufacturer’s instructions to determine which system will work best in your vehicle. Both systems are equally safe as long as the seat is installed correctly and fits securely in the vehicle.

Rear-Facing Car Seat: An infant under age two must be secured in a rear-facing car seat in a rear seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.  A rear-facing car seat is the best seat for your infant/young child to use. It has a harness, and in a crash cradles and moves with your child to reduce the stress to the child’s fragile neck and spinal cord. The angle of a rear-facing car seat is very important – there is usually a gauge on the side of the seat and also information in the manufacturer’s instructions. Never put a rear-facing child in a front seat with an active passenger airbag, and never try to put a rear-facing seat facing forward.

Forward-Facing Car Seat: A child at least age two (or under two who has outgrown the manufacturer’s height or weight limits for a rear-facing car seat) must be secured in a forward-facing car seat in a rear seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the highest height or weight requirements of the forward-facing car seat.  They must use the harness and the straps should be slightly above shoulder level. The harness straps should be snug and flat with the chest clip at the armpit level. When using a seat belt, make sure it is routed through the correct belt path on the car seat.

Booster Seat: Children at least age four who have outgrown their forward-facing car seat must be secured by a booster seat in a rear seat of the vehicle until the child can meet the height and fit requirements (around age eight, around 100lbs and 4 ft. 9 in. or taller) for an adult safety seat belt. Lap and shoulder belts must be used. There are two types of booster seats – high back booster and backless booster. If your car’s seat back ends up lower than your child’s ears, use the high back booster to help protect the neck and head. If your car’s seat back is higher than your child’s ears, you can use a backless booster seat.

Seatbelts: A child at least age eight or at least 57 inches tall may be restrained by an adult seat belt if the child can be secured properly by an adult seat belt. When a seat belt correctly fits a child the lap and shoulder belts should both be used. The child should be able to sit all the way back against the vehicle seat with his/her knees bent over the edge of the seat. The shoulder belt remains snugly positioned across the chest and collarbone.

Sometimes when children have certain health problems, not all can ride in many of the car seats commonly found in stores. Children with breathing problems, casts or other healthcare issues may need to use special car seats. Never try to alter a car seat to fit a child with special healthcare needs. Check the label on the seat to see that it meets federal safety standards. If you have portable equipment like walkers, crutches, oxygen tanks, monitors, etc., make sure they are stored and secured during travel so they do not become flying objects in a crash or sudden stop. It’s important to check with your pediatrician on your child’s transportation needs.  The American Academy of Pediatrics is another good resource:

There is so much more information regarding car seats and installation that it is best to have your car checked installed by a nationally certified car seat tech. Here are the options in your area:

All locations have certified techs.

Cinda Seamon is the Fire & Life Safety Educator for the town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue.