Using a car seat, also called a child safety seat, is the best way to protect your
kids when they're in a car. Car
crashes are one of the leading causes of death and injury for children. Because car
seats save lives, using a car seat is the law in every U.S. state.
But keeping your child safe depends on choosing the right safety seat and using
it correctly. The best car seat is the one that fits your child's weight, size, and
age, as well as your vehicle.
Here are some things to know so you can pick a seat that's right for your child:
Choose a seat that meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
The seat's label will say so.
Learn how to install the seat and use the harness before your child's first ride.
Don't depend on store displays to show you how to do it.
To get help or to double-check that you've installed it properly, visit a child
car seat inspection station, set up by the federal government across the country.
You can also get help from many local health departments, public safety groups, hospitals,
law enforcement agencies, and fire departments. Be sure to ask for a certified child
passenger safety technician.
Be careful about using a secondhand car seat:
If you know a seat was in a crash, don't use it. It may be damaged in ways you
Don't use a seat that is missing parts or lacks a manufacture date and model number.
If there's no instruction manual available, don't use the seat. Also, check the seat
for the recommended "expiration date."
If you have any doubts about a seat's history, or if it has cracks or other signs
of wear and tear, don't use it. Car seat recalls are common. Contact the manufacturer
and ask how long the seat can safely be used. If a seat has been recalled, the manufacturer
might provide a replacement part or new model.
Be sure to fill out the product registration card so you hear about recalls right
Babies start out in infant-only (rear-facing) seats or convertible seats. As they
grow, kids switch to forward-facing seats before moving to a booster seat. Here's
a rundown of which seat to use when.
What Are the Types of Car Seats?
Infant-Only Seats (Birth to 22-35 Pounds)
Infant-only seats fit newborns and smaller infants best. You'll need to buy another
seat when your baby outgrows it. Infant-only seats are designed to protect babies
from birth until they reach up to 35 pounds (about 16 kilograms), depending on the
Infant car seats should always be installed to face the rear of the car. A small
child is much less likely to die or be seriously injured when in a rear-facing seat.
That's because the back of the safety seat will cradle the baby's head, neck, and
torso in a crash. At this age, a child's neck usually isn't strong enough to support
the head in a crash.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants and toddlers ride
in a rear-facing seat until they reach the highest weight and height limits recommended
by the seat's manufacturer. Safety experts say to do this based on a child's size,
not age. Small children can stay rear-facing until age 3 or 4.
Infant-only safety seats are convenient because they're designed to double as carriers,
chairs, or rockers when not used in the car. Many models detach right from the base,
letting you leave the base installed in the car. Some can be clicked into strollers
to be wheeled around. If your baby is in the infant safety seat outside of the car,
never put the seat on a high surface like a kitchen counter, a dresser, or changing.
Infant-seats are easy to use, but don't let your baby spend too much time in one
at home or at daycare. Too much time in a car seat can limit a baby's movement and
opportunities for stimulation, which are important for developing sensory and motor
Should I Use a Convertible Seat?
Convertible seats are designed to protect kids:
from birth up to at least 40 pounds (18 kilograms) facing backward
up to 65 pounds (30 kilograms) or even 80 pounds (36 kilograms) facing forward,
depending on the model
Convertible seats are placed in different positions depending on a child's age
They face toward the rear until a baby is ready to face forward (has reached the
rear-facing weight or height limit for that seat).
Then, they can be turned around and "converted" to a forward-facing seat.
Some car seats are known as "all-in-one" or "3-in-one" because they convert from
rear-facing to front-facing to booster with the harness removed.
are heavy and not very portable
should be used only for travel (not outside the car)
can be economical because you might not need to buy a separate infant-only seat
are a good option for larger babies who outgrow their infant-only seat and still
need to be rear-facing
If you use a convertible seat:
Make sure it fits your child correctly. A small child in a large seat may not
be the best option.
Don't use a model with a tray shield for newborns. The shield comes up too high
on them. In a crash, the baby's face could hit the tray.
Forward-Facing-Only Seats (20-80 pounds)
Forward-facing car seats are designed to protect children from 20 to 80 pounds
(about 10 to 36 kilograms) or more, depending on the model.
All kids who have outgrown the rear-facing height or weight limit for their car
seat should use a forward-facing car seat with a full harness for as long as possible.
They should only switch to a booster
seat that relies on the car's adult seat belts when they pass the height and weight
limit for their forward-facing car seat.
Some cars have built-in or integrated car seats. As with other forward-facing car
safety seats, built-in seats are for kids who have outgrown their rear-facing car
seat. Some convert to belt-positioning booster seats. Weight and height limits will
vary, so check your owner's manual.
What About Air Bags?
When combined with safety belts, air bags protect adults and teens from serious
injury during a collision. They have saved lives and prevented many serious injuries.
But young children can be injured or even killed if they are riding in the front passenger
seat when an air bag opens.
Air bags were designed with adults in mind. They must open with great force (up
to 200 miles per hour) to protect an average-sized, 165-pound (75-kilogram) male from
injury. While this force is OK for adults and bigger kids, it can be dangerous for
small kids, possibly leading to head and neck injuries.
Protect your baby or toddler from air bag injury by following these rules:
Never place a rear-facing infant seat in the front seat of a car that has a passenger-side
Place child safety seats in the back seat.
If you have no choice and must place a child in the front (that is, if your car
is a two-seater or if the car seat will not fit in the back seat), push the passenger
seat as far back as it will go.
All kids under 13 years of age should always ride in the back seat, and in the
middle of the back seat whenever possible. All passengers must have their seatbelts
A law allows car makers to install a manual cut-off switch that temporarily disables
a passenger-side air bag. As recommended by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
if you must place a child in a booster seat in the front seat and your car has this
cut-off switch, use it to disable the air bag for the entire ride. Be sure to switch
the air bag back on when you remove the booster seat.
You can find more information about keeping kids safe in cars online at: