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Car Seat Safety

Using a safety seat correctly makes a big difference. A child safety seat may not protect your child in a crash if it isn't used correctly and installed in the vehicle properly. Cars were made for adults, therefore children do not fit in a seat belt properly until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.

General Installation Instructions

  • Prior to using and installing your car seat read the instructions, 4 out of 5 car seats are used incorrectly. Read the vehicle owner's manual - the seat belt, car seat installation and LATCH sections along air bag warnings.
  • Buckle children (ages birth to 12 years) in the back seat. Teenagers and adults are allowed in the front seat. Airbags can kill or serious injure children, including the new vehicles with the airbags that turn off and on.
  • Never place a rear-facing child safety seat in the front seat where there is a passenger air bag.
  • Car seat have expiration dates on them, so please check for that and do not use the seat past that date if there is one.
  • If the care seat has been in a crash, it may be unsafe to use again if one or more of the following happened:
    • Someone was injured in the crash
    • Door by child safety seat damaged
    • Airbags deployed
    • Vehicle had to be towed from crash
    • You can see damage to car seat or call car seat manufacture.
  • When a car seat is correctly installed it should not move more than one inch side to side or front to back at the belt path.
  • Car seats can be installed using the seat belt or Lower Anchors and Tether for Children (LATCH). Use which ever works best for your seat and your vehicle. Check vehicle owner’s manual or call the automobile manufacture to find out weight limits for LATCH in your vehicle, weight limit includes weight of car seat and child.

Rear-Facing Car Seat


You can use an infant or convertible seat as long as the seat fits your child’s weight and height and fits in your vehicle. Children should ride rear facing in their car seat to the upper weight limit of the seat until 35 to 40 pounds in most cases with convertible seat and some with infant seats. A rear facing car seat absorbs the force of a car crash, so do not turn the seat around before they mean the weight limit. They cannot be turned around before the child is one year old and weighs 20 pounds.

  • Harness straps should be at or below the infant's shoulders.
  • The harness straps should be snug. You should be unable to pinch the harness at the shoulders. This is your baby's seat belt -- keeping it snug will keep the infant safe!
  • The harness chest clip must be at the infant's armpit level. This clip will position the harness straps to stay over the baby's shoulders, before a crash.
  • Recline a rear-facing seat at approximately a 45 degree angle for newborns and a 35-45 degree angle for babies between the ages of 5 to 6 months (when they have a stronger neck muscle). Refer to instructions on child seat.


Children should ride rear facing until they are 1 year old or weigh 20 pounds; it is recommended they ride rear facing until they are 2 years old or outgrow the weight limit on their seat. Harness seat weight limits vary depending on the seat. Common weight limits are 40, 65, and 80 pounds. Harness straps should be at or above the child's shoulders.

  • Harness straps should be threaded through the top slots of most safety seats. Check the instructions.
  • Harness straps should be snug. You should not be able to pinch the harness at the shoulders. Remember- it is the baby's seat belt!
  • Harness chest clip should be at the child's armpit level. It positions the harness straps on the child's shoulders, so in a crash the child stays in the safety seat.
  • Place a forward-facing seat in an upright position
  • Use a top tether strap when installing your seat, whether you are using the seat belt or the lower anchors. This helps prevent the child's head from moving forward. refer to your vehicle's owner manual and instructions.

Booster Seats 

Children should stay in a full harness until they have out grown of it. All harnesses fit children up to 40 pounds and most are now increasing that to 65 pounds or higher. The longer your child is in a full harness the safer they are. When children outgrow their car seat they should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat in the back seat. The booster seat uses the adult lap and shoulder belt and should be used until the belt fits the child properly or until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall.

  • Belt-positioning booster seats can only be used with both the lap and shoulder belts across the child. The shoulder belt should be snug against the child's chest, crossing at the collarbone. The lap belt should lay low across the child's upper thighs.
  • Booster Seats are used for that "in-between" stage of being too big for a baby-seat and not quite big enough for the adult seat belt.
  • Booster seats should be used until the child can is approximately 4'9" tall or until they pass the five step test (below).

Five-Step Test

If there is a "no" answer to any of these questions, the child needs a booster.

  • Sitting tall with entire back touching seat?
  • Knees bend comfortably at edge of seat?
  • Belt across the shoulder between arm/neck?
  • Lap belt touching tops of legs?
  • Can the child sit like this for the entire trip?

Seat belts

If all the answers to the five-step test (above) are “yes” then the child can sit in both lap and shoulder belts. The shoulder belt should be snug against the child's chest, crossing at the collarbone. The lap belt should lay low across the child's upper thighs. Never allow the child to put the shoulder belt behind his back or under his arm. Remember, kids are not allowed in the front seat until they are 13, as airbags can cause death or serious injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the safest seat that I can buy for my child? The safest child safety seat is one that will fit your child, that is comfortable, that fits in your car, and the seat that you will use correctly every time the child is in it.

How long should my baby ride backwards? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should ride rear facing in their car seat until 2 years of age or the upper weight limit of the seat (30 to 35 pounds). All convertible seats and some infant seats will go to at least 30 pounds; many convertibles go higher. When rear facing the car seat absorbs the crash forces -- once you turn them around the child absorbs the crash. The child cannot be turned around before 1 year and 20 pounds.

My child safety seat came with a "tether" strap. Do I need to use it? Most forward facing safety seats that have internal harnesses and are manufactured after September 1, 1999 will have the tether. The tether strap gives your child added head protection in a car crash. Injury Prevention advocates all forward facing children to use a seat that is tethered.

My car does not have the tether anchorages; can I still use the tether? No. Check with the manufacturer of your vehicle. Many manufacturers now offer one anchorage (tether anchor) at no charge. Have them installed in your vehicle. Remember the tether is for forward facing safety seats in most cases.

Is LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tether for Children) safer than using the seat belts for installation? Not necessarily.  A car seat PROPERLY installed with a seat belt should be as safe as one properly installed with LATCH.  Use the system that works best for you and your car seat. There are many vehicles that do not allow you to install your car seat in the back middle seat using LATCH (read owner’s manual to vehicle). However, the seat belt can be used in this seating position to install the child restraint.

What is a booster seat? The booster seat is a new concept for parents. When a parent goes to the restaurant and asks for the "booster" it is to "boost" the child so they can sit at an adult table. This is the same concept for the car. Since the seat belt design in a car is for adults, the booster seat "boosts" the child up so they fit the seat belt correctly.

Why should I use a booster? Medically, there is more known now about what happens in car crashes with children. The seat belt does not fit the child, so often, the shoulder belt goes behind a child's back. This can place the child at risk for head injury. If the lap belt rides up on the stomach, it can place the child at risk for internal and spinal injuries.

When can children ride in the front seat? Not until they are 13. Kids 12 and under need to be in the back seat, regardless of height or weight. Any child who is out of position at the time of the crash can put their head too close to the airbag and can cause death or serious injuries.

Sign up for a car-safety seat class. English and Spanish classes available. Call (602) 230-2273 (CARE) to register.

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