Car Seat Safety Checklist

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One-Minute Car Safety Seat Check!

In a policy statement published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a landmark new car seat policy now recommending that you keep your child rear-facing for a longer period. (Last updated March 21, 2011)

Using a child safety seat correctly makes a big difference. Safety seats may not protect children in a crash if they aren't used correctly and installed in the vehicle properly. The new Car Seat Guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics are summarized below.

So take a minute and take the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's "One-Minute Check" below.

A quick reminder before you start:  All children age 12 and under should ride restrained in the back seat of the car.

  • Never place a child safety seat in the front seat where there is a passenger air bag.
  • Read the instructions that came with the car seat and also read the vehicle owner's manual (the seatbelt and car seat installation section).

Infants: Birth to age 2, or until they exceed the height or weight limit for the car seat (which can be found on the back of the seat) should ride in the back seat in a rear-facing safety seat.

  • Harness straps should be at or below the infant's shoulders.
  • The harness straps should be snug. This is you baby's seatbelt, 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.
  • If your baby weighs more than 20 pounds before the first birthday, a convertible safety seat that goes to 30-35 pounds rear facing will be needed.
  • Riding backward is the safest thing for your child.

Toddlers: Children ages 1–2 should ride rear facing until they exceed the height or weight limit for the car seat, which can be found on the back of the seat. Children should ride in a safety seat with a full harness until they weigh about 40 pounds. This is the safest way for a child.

  • 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 must be snug.
  • 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.

Older Children   Children between 40 and 80 pounds should ride in the back seat in a belt-positioning booster seat. A booster seat uses the adult lap and shoulder belt. Booster seats should be used until the adult lap and shoulder belt fit the child properly.

  • Belt-positioning boosters can only be used with both 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.
  • Boosters are used in that "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 sit with their back against the vehicle seat back cushion, knees bent over the seat cushion edge and their feet are on the floor (child must be approximately 4'9" tall). Most children will need a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.
  • Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.

New Car Seat Law Extends to Age 8

Did you know that more than 80 percent of child car seats are improperly installed? Northridge Hospital, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) want to reduce that statistic by providing free car seat educational seminars and installation days. 

Auto collisions are the leading cause of death for children ages 4 to 12 and one of the leading causes of injury and disability. Therefore, California now joins 37 other states with a stronger booster seat law.

Effective January 1, 2012, a new law requires that children under 8 years of age and under 4’9” tall remain in an appropriate child restraint system (e.g., booster seat) and sit in the back seat until they meet the new minimums. A new provision for taller children allows a child under 8 years of age who is 4’ 9” or taller to use a seat belt instead of a safety seat/booster.

Infants now stay in the rear-facing position until they are at least 2 years old, the new laws are all about preventing injuries and death in case of a car crash. Children in the 6- to 7-year-old age group are particularly at risk because they may be too big for many child safety seats and yet too small to fully benefit from seat belts.

Here’s why keeping your child in a booster as long as possible is the safest option:

  •  A booster seat raises the child to reposition the seat belt properly so that the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs rather than the stomach.
  • Children who ride in booster seats are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a car crash than kids who are wearing seatbelts alone.
  • In case of a crash, a seatbelt can cause severe trauma to a child's internal organs if the child isn't seated in a booster.
  • Seat belts are designed for the average adult male. They do not properly fit a child who is under 4’9” tall.

Take the Safety Belt Fit Test

If you're looking for a new seat, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranked the Best Bet Booster Seats meaning they "correctly position a vehicle safety belt on a typical 4- to 8-year-old in almost any car, minivan or SUV."

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