By law, you must have the correct car seat in place before taking your newborn home from the hospital/birthing center. Finding the right car seat for your baby’s safety is essential, but it’s no easy task. Even after you find the right seat, understanding proper installation and correct use is important. Then there’s the question of when to transition to a new seat as your child grows. The mission of the NHTSA is to prevent injuries and save lives, and we can help you through the entire car seat process.
Infant vs. Convertible Car Seat
Babies should always ride in rear-facing car seats, the safest seats for young children. Rear-facing seats have a harness and, in a crash, cradle and move with your child to reduce the stress to her fragile neck and spinal cord. Using rear-facing car seats is the best way to keep infants safe. The two types of seats follow.
Infant (Rear-Facing Only)
Designed for newborns and small babies, these seats are small, portable and can only be used rear-facing. Keep in mind:
• Infant car seats must never be placed forward-facing in a vehicle.
• Infant car seats should always be installed in the backseat, and never in the front seat near an active passenger airbag.
These seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time. As your baby grows, this seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat. Generally, all children should remain in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible according to the manufacturer’s instructions — which can be until ages two or three. Babies usually outgrow their infant car seats by eight or nine months. At that time, we recommend that you purchase a convertible seat and use it rear-facing for as long as possible.
Installing Rear-Facing Car Seats
Your child’s safety could be compromised if your car seat is not installed correctly. Since every vehicle and car seat has different installation instructions, it’s important to follow them to help you install your car seat and make sure that your child fi ts in the car seat correctly.
1. Read the car seat’s instruction manual and the portion of your vehicle’s owner manual on car seat installation. Every car seat needs to be installed using either the lower anchors or the seat belt to secure it in place. If you choose to use a seat belt to install your car seat, pay close attention to how to lock your seat belt in the vehicle owner’s manual. Because each car seat and vehicle is different, it’s important to follow all instructions carefully.
2. Place the car seat in the backseat of your vehicle and follow the manufacturer’s installation directions.
3. The car seat must be secured tightly in the vehicle. It should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than one inch when pulled at the belt path.
4. Make sure the car seat is installed at the correct recline angle. Most car seats have built-in angle indicators or adjustors that help with this step. If you have questions, trained Child Passenger Safety Technicians can help you. Many local fi re and police stations offer free inspections.
Fitting Your Child Correctly in a Rear-Facing Car Seat
1. Position the harness on your child properly. Harness straps should lie flat — not twisted — and should be placed through the slot that is at or below your child’s shoulders.
2. Buckle the harness and the chest clip and tighten. The harness is snug enough when extra material cannot be pinched at the shoulder.
3. Make sure the chest clip is at armpit level. Remember, for your child’s safety, by law in the United States he must be secured in a car seat.