Using a car seat for transporting young children is a legal requirement. Knowing how to use a car seat and which type of seat to use for your child is vital information for parents or anyone else who travels with a child in their vehicle.
Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and injury in young children, and drivers play a central role in making sure all children in their vehicle are correctly buckled-up for their age and size.
Types of Car Seats
Car seats are designed to fit a child’s physical size and weight, and you can use an online car seat guideline app or car seat guideline chart to check on the specifications for specific brands.
Car seats come in four basic types:
- Rear-facing seats for infants and toddlers
- Forward-facing seats for children too large for a rear-facing seat
- Booster seats for children who have outgrown a forward-facing seat but are still under 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 meters) tall
- Convertible seats and 3-in-1 seats convert from rear-facing to forward-facing
Rear and forward-facing car seats can both be installed either with the car’s seat belts or the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, a car seat latching system required on all vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002.
Safety Tips for Rear-Facing Car Seats
- Use a car seat starting on the ride home from the hospital.
- Use only for infants up to weights of 22 pounds to 35 pounds (9.97 to 15.8 kilograms), depending on brand.
- Lock the seat in place tightly, so it does not move more than one inch side to side or forward to back.
- Never use a rear-facing seat in the front seat, or any seat, with active airbags.
- Use only for traveling in the car.
- Use the angle adjuster and indicator on the car seat to prevent the child’s head from tipping forward when the seat is in place.
- Always read and follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions and weight recommendations.
Safety Tips for Forward-Facing Toddler Car Seats
- Check your vehicle’s manual for information on your seatbelt system and using it safely with a car seat.
- Be sure the car seat fits tightly on the seat and is secured with a seat belt or the LATCH locking system.
- Do not use forward-facing seats in the front of the car unless absolutely necessary.
- Always read and follow the maximum weight recommendations on a forward-facing toddler car seat. Newer seats have this information printed on the seat.
- Inspect the seat for damage and check to see if it was recalled by the manufacturer. Never use a defective car seat.
Using Child Booster Seats
Booster seats latch to the car seat belt system or sit on the seat with the seat belt fastened over the child’s shoulder, using a plastic guide to help position the seatbelt correctly.
Only use booster seats for children who are too large for forward-facing car seats but are still under the legal height to ride using an adult seatbelt. All children should ride in the back seat until they are 13 years old and should wear an adult safety belt when they have outgrown a booster seat.
Learn more about car seat laws.