Before your baby is even born, one of your most important tasks will be selecting and installing your car seat correctly. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is hoping to simplify this process with the following tips for proper installation and car seat usage.
Rear-Facing Is Key
The type of car seats children may need changes as they grow. When you bring home your newborn for the first time, you will need to use a rear-facing car seat. This will continue for at least the first 12 months and, preferably, long after that.
Rear-facing is the safest option for newborns and infants. This specific car seat is designed with a harness and, in a crash, cradles and moves with your child to reduce the stress to his fragile neck and spinal cord.
A second option for children older than one year is a convertible or all-in-one car seat. This seat typically has a higher height and weight limit for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.
Designed specifically for newborns and small babies, the infant-only car seat is a smaller, portable seat typically used with a base that can only be used rear-facing. When that happens, NHTSA recommends that you purchase a convertible car seat or an all-in-one car seat and use it rear-facing. These seats have higher rear-facing height and weight limits, which enable children to ride rear-facing longer.
Get Guidance on Proper Installation
First and foremost, you should check your car seat manual, as well as your vehicle owner’s manual, for the best guidance for installing your car seat. You may only need a seat belt — or you may need to use your vehicle’s lower anchors — to secure your car seat, depending on the type purchased. When installing the car seat, remember:
• Infant car seats can only be used rear-facing, and must never be placed forward-facing in a vehicle.
• Infant car seats should always be installed in the back seat.
Keep Up With Recalls
As soon as you purchase the car seat, complete and mail the accompanying registration card or register the seat on the manufacturer’s website, including the model number and the date of manufacture. If the car seat is found to have a possible safety problem and must be recalled, the manufacturer of the seat will notify you that it cannot be used or will provide you with other instructions. You can also register your car seat online at www.nhtsa.ogv/carseat.
If you learn that your car seat has a recall, address it immediately. If you don’t have another car seat or booster seat to use, keep using the recalled seat while you wait for the repair kit — if the recall notice says you can. Many problems are minor, but some are serious. All problems should be fixed as soon as possible.
Second-Hand Car Seats
Car seats can be expensive. If you are considering using a second-hand car seat, use the following checklist. If you can confirm that each of these statements is true, then the second-hand car seat is safe to use.
• The seat has never been involved in a moderate-to-severe crash.
• The seat has labels stating the date of manufacture and the model number. You need this information to find out if there is a recall on the car seat or if the seat is too old. Manufacturers assign expiration dates based on the date of the manufacture, which is typically six years beyond the date the car seat was created. Parents should not use any car seat that has expired, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
• The seat has no recalls. If you do find a recall on the car seat, you should contact the manufacturer immediately, as some problems can be fixed.
• The seat has all of its parts. If the seat is missing a part, contact the manufacturer, as some parts can be ordered.
• The seat has its instruction book. You can also review the manufacturer’s instruction booklet online or you can order the instruction manual from the manufacturer.
Help Is Available
The first ride home with your baby can be scary, but with proper car seat installation, it can be safe.
Remember: When installing or using a car seat, always refer to the car seat instructions, read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or lower anchors, and check height and weight limits frequently.
Car seat inspection stations are available locally to help assist new — and experienced — parents with car seat installation and usage. To locate an inspection station in your area, visit www.nhtsa.gov.