Car seats can be complicated for new parents. Not only are there various types of safety seats to choose from, recently updated guidelines mean that even experienced parenting veterans can make mistakes. Installed correctly and used correctly each time you drive, however, safety seats can effectively protect your little one from injury if a car accident occurs. Here’s what expectant parents need to know about car seat safety.
Types of Car Seats
The American Academy of Pediatrics identifies the appropriate types of car seats for each age group:
- Infants and toddlers (from birth to age 2) should ride in either a rear-facing only seat or a convertible seat that can be used either rear or forward facing. However, convertible seats should face the rear of the car until the child reaches the height and weight limits for this position.
- After the rear-facing height and weight limits are reached, toddlers and preschoolers older than age 2 should ride in either a convertible seat that faces forward or a designated forward-facing seat with a chest harness until they reach the height and weight limits for the specific seat.
- After the forward-facing height and weight limits of the seat are exceeded, school-aged children should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they reach a height of about 4’9″.
Why Extended Rear-Facing?
While in the past most states allowed children to be in forward-facing car seats after age 1, updated guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics require kids to remain rear-facing until at least age 2, according to Autobytel. Because the vertebrae of young children are not fully fused, a minor crash can result in serious injury or death if a child is facing forward too early. Rear-facing car seats keep your child up to 500 percent safer than forward-facing models. For best results, keep the car seat turned to the rear until your child outgrows the height and weight restrictions.
Although many parents buckle children incorrectly, these mistakes are usually easy to fix. Most vehicles have the LATCH system to facilitate easy installation but make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions. After-market accessories such as toy bars, mirrors, and strap covers are not approved for safe car seat use and should be avoided. Never use a car seat that is more than five years old; seats have an expiration date and should be destroyed when it passes. Seats should always be replaced after an accident.
If you’re concerned about choosing or properly using a car seat, many local fire and police departments offer free events where they can offer advice about the position and installation of the safety seat in your specific vehicle. In addition, some hospitals have a car seat specialist on staff to assist new parents at discharge. Also, make sure that your car has as many safety features as possible for your new child.