Car Seat Safety Tips and Installation

Use a Rear-Facing Car Seat for Babies Under 2

  • For the best possible protection, keep your baby in a rear-facing child safety seat in a back seat for as long as possible—up to the height or weight limit of the particular seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to keep children rear-facing until they are at least 2 or preferably until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer. For many children that will be 30, 35, 40 or even 50 pounds. Rear-facing occupants are safest.

Using an Infant or Convertible Seat

  • Use your baby’s car seat rear-facing and semi-reclined no more than 45 degrees, so the baby’s head stays in contact with the seat and the baby’s airway stays open. Check the level indicator to ensure your baby’s car seat is properly reclined.
  • Position the shoulder straps through the slots at or below your rear-facing baby’s shoulders. Make sure the buckled harness straps are snug so you cannot pinch extra webbing at the shoulder. Loose harness straps don’t provide maximum protection.
  • Place the carrier handle in the appropriate position according to car seat instructions while driving.
  • Ensure the back of the car seat does not touch the back of the front row seats.
  • Adjust the lower straps and buckle so it is snug around the child’s hips and crotch.
  • Adjust the chest clip to armpit level. Abdominal injuries can result if chest clip is too low.
  • Make sure the seatbelt or anchor strap is routed through the rear-facing belt path and not the forward-facing belt path if using a convertible seat.

More Installation Tips and Information

Take the Next Step

Take the next step to a forward-facing car seat when your child has outgrown his or her rear-facing convertible car seat. Many harnesses today serve kids to 50, 60, 80 or even 100 pounds. You should be able to answer “yes” to one of the questions below.

  • Does your child exceed the car seat’s rear-facing height or weight limits?
  • Is your child’s head within one inch of the car seat top?

Using a Forward-Facing Car Seat

  • Position the shoulder straps through the slots at or above your forward-facing baby’s shoulders. Some seats require use of the top slots when the seat is forward-facing, so check instructions.
  • Make sure the buckled harness straps are snug so you cannot pinch extra webbing at the shoulder. Loose harness straps don’t provide maximum protection.
  • The lower straps and buckle should be snug around the child’s hips and crotch.
  • Adjust the chest clip to armpit level. Abdominal injuries can result if chest clip is too low.
  • Make sure the seatbelt or anchor strap is routed through the forward-facing belt path and not the rear-facing belt path if using a convertible seat.
  • Use a top tether if your vehicle and car seat are both so equipped. Tethers limit the forward motion of your child’s head in a crash.

More Installation Tips and Information

Take the Next Step

Take the next step to a booster seat when you answer “yes” to any of these questions.

  • Does your child exceed the car seat’s height or weight limits?
  • Are your child’s shoulders above the car seat’s top harness slots?
  • Are the tops of your child’s ears above the top of the car seat?

Using a Booster Seat

  • Route lap belt under the booster seat arm rests so the belt rests on the hips, not the stomach.
  • Route shoulder belt through seat belt positioner and under the armrest where the seatbelt connects to the buckle.
  • The shoulder belt should rest on the chest-not on the neck, under the arm or behind the back.
  • Use a booster seat with the vehicle lap and shoulder safety belts until your child passes the Safety Belt Fit Test.
  • Children usually need a car seat or booster seat until they are about 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds to get the best protection from a seat belt.
  • Many children will be between 8 and 12 years of age before they meet these heights and weights.

More Installation Tips and Information


Using a Seat Belt

The Safety Belt Fit test

When your child reaches 4 feet 9 inches and 80 to 100 pounds, use the Safety Belt Fit Test to determine if the child is big enough to use the adult seat belt without a booster. Use the Safety Belt Fit Test on every child under 13.

  • Have your child sit in a back seat with their bottom and back against the vehicle’s seat back. Do the child’s knees bend at the seat’s edge? If yes, go on. If not, the child must stay in a booster seat.
  • Buckle the seat belt. Does the lap belt stay low on the hips? If yes, go on. If it rests on the soft part of the stomach, the child must stay in a booster seat.
  • Look at the shoulder belt. Does it lay on the collarbone and shoulder? If yes, go on. If it is on the face or neck, the child must remain in a booster seat.
  • Never put the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind the child’s back. Do not allow children to play with the shoulder portion of a seat belt. Treat it like any cord.
  • Can the child maintain the correct seating position with the shoulder belt on the shoulder and the lap belt low across the hips? If yes, the child has passed the Safety Belt Fit Test. If no, the child should return to a booster seat and re-test in a month.

More Installation Tips and Information

Ways to Stay Safe With Seat Belts

Once your child passes the Safety Belt Fit Test, require him or her to use seat belts in a back seat on every ride, whether or not you are there. A lap and shoulder belt provides the best protection to your child and must be used on every ride.

  • Move children from booster seats to seat belts in a back seat only after the child passes the Safety Belt Fit Test in every vehicle. Return your child to a booster seat if the safety belt does not fit perfectly.
  • Use the Safety Belt Fit Test on any child you transport in your car.
  • Make sure that everyone sits upright when using seat belts. Never let them lean against windows or car doors or lie down. Never put the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the back.
  • Tell every driver who transports your child that seat belt use is a must when your child is in their vehicle.
  • Teach your child to use a seat belt in a back seat in every vehicle he or she uses. This is an important habit to establish when the child rides in vehicles unsupervised by you.
  • All children under age 13 should ride properly restrained in a back seat.
  • Wear your seat belt correctly every time you are in a car. Children learn from adult role models.


Videos and Resources

Infant Car Seats

For the best possible protection, keep your infant in a rear-facing child safety seat in a back seat for as long as possible—up to the height or weight limit of the particular seat. The "12-months-and-20-pounds" rule that many parents cite when turning their child forward in the car is actually the minimum size and age requirement. Never turn your child forward-facing before age 1 and at least 20 pounds, although keeping your kids rear-facing until about age 2 is safer if the seat allows.

Booster Seats and Seat Belts

Buckling up the right way, on every ride is the single most important thing a family can do to stay safe in the car.


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