Parents and caregivers want to keep kids safe in the car, but keeping up with the latest recommendations can be tricky, especially as the children grow and their needs change. It’s sometimes hard to know if you’re doing everything you can to keep your child as safe as possible.
Regardless of your children’s age and how often they ride with you in the car, you’ll want to follow these guidelines to help you find the right seat.
1. Under 13? Don’t let them sit up front.
Whatever a child’s height or weight, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises that children under 13 should never sit in the front seat, even for a short trip. Car safety standards and features like airbags are developed and tested for adult bodies, not the growing body of a child.
Air bags can be inflated at speeds of 200-400 mph, which could seriously harm a child if deployed. Most car crashes impact the front of the car, so keeping kids in the back seat can help protect them from injury.
2. Tethers add extra protection.
Most forward-facing car seats have tethers to secure them to the vehicle, in addition to using the vehicle’s seat belt or lower anchors. Tethers help keep car seats from pitching forward in a crash, reducing injury to the child’s head and neck.
You can find the tether at the top of convertible, combination and all-in-one car seats. They’re adjustable straps that have a hook that connects to your vehicle’s tether anchors. Review your car seat’s instructions and vehicle’s owner manual to identify the correct tether location in your vehicle.
3. Don’t move kids on too soon.
The best protection for a child in a car is the car seat that’s right for the age and size. According to the most recent NHTSA data, nearly 1 in 10 children between 1 and 3 years old were moved on to booster seats too early. And roughly 1 in 5 children aged 4 to 7 were prematurely moved to just using a seat belt when they should have still been riding in booster seats.
Booster seats help a child’s seat belt fit appropriately, which means crossing the center of the chest and not touching the neck.
4. Check car seat recommendations online.
Tools and resources are available to help make it easier to check that children are in the right seat for their age, height and weight. Visit NHTSA.gov/TheRightSeat to compare car seats and get helpful installation instructions.
5. Free car seat checks are available.
Whether you’ve just installed a new car seat or just want a “checkup” for a seat your child’s been using for a while, you can get help at a car seat inspection station near you. Certified technicians will inspect your car seat free of charge and show you how to correctly install it and make sure your child is properly secured. Find a car seat inspection station near you.
6. Tweens should always be buckled.
According to a 2005 report by the NHTSA, most accidents in urban areas happen under 30 mph. Be consistent and stay firm if your tween or teen resists wearing seat belts. Set safe habits for life, help keep your child safe and obey the law by making sure your child is buckled up every time for every ride, no matter how few miles or how slowly you’re driving.
7. Car seats have expiration dates.
Car seats expire, because technology improves and safety standards change. If you buy a used car seat or receive one as a hand-me-down, check it carefully and make sure you know the history and whether or not it has been involved in a crash. Most car seats have an expiration date stamped on the manufacturer’s label on the side or base.
Want to learn more?
During Child Passenger Safety Week (Sept. 15-21), many communities offer free car seat check events, especially on National Seat Check Saturday (Sept. 21). It’s a great opportunity to ensure you’re using your child’s car seat safely, whether you’re a new parent or caregiver, or you’ve been using car seats for years but want to confirm you’re using your child’s seat correctly.
Visit NHTSA.gov/TheRightSeat for more information and to search for a car seat inspection station or event near you.