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Car seats

Car seat buying guide

Last updated: June 2014

Getting started

Of all the things you'll buy for your baby, a car seat should be at the top of your list. As the child grows, you'll need to buy new ones to maintain a consistently safe and comfortable fit.

Selecting a car seat isn't as simple as just grabbing a discounted model off a shelf. There are a number of things you'll need to get familiar with to choose and successfully install a child seat in your car. Although you may be tempted to put off some of that homework, don't. You may be surprised to find that some child seats can be difficult to install securely and others may not fit at all. It's best to not put it off until your baby is ready to arrive.

Here are some important things you'll need to know:

Where do I start?

Your first choice will be whether to put your newborn in a dedicated infant seat or a convertible seat. We think an infant seat is the safer choice, and our testing has found it provides a better fit for a newborn. Get an infant car seat well before your baby arrives, so you have plenty of time to make sure it fits your car. Learn to install the seat properly and get comfortable with how it works.

Read up:

Selecting and installing a child seat correctly can be challenging. About 80 percent of parents and caregivers experience some level of misuse when using seats that include a harness, so it's important to carefully read the owner's manual for both your vehicle and your child's car seat. (Learn more in the study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.) This buying guide will help you gauge when it's time to trade up to the next version. (See our videos for how to install an infant car seat, how to install a convertible car seat, and how to install a harnessed booster or belt-positioning booster car seat.)

Know your state laws:

All states have laws that require keeping your baby rear-facing up to a certain minimum age and also requires the use of appropriate child restraints as they grow. Be sure you know what is required in your state and those states where you may travel. (Check child seat laws for your state.)

Most state laws require babies to ride facing rearward in vehicles until they're at least 1-year old. But we think it's safer to keep them in rear-facing seats until they're 2-years old or when they reach the height and weight limits of the seat; The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees.

As your baby grows

All child seats will have limits to how big or how old a child can or should be to use the seat in certain stages. Its important to not only be aware of how much your child weighs, but how tall they are and how they fit within the features of a seat. As children grow quickly you may need to be aware more frequently than at your standard doctor visits.

Types of child car seats

In addition to infant car seats and convertible seats, there are harnessed toddler booster seats, belt-positioning booster seats, built-in seats, and seats for children with special needs. From birth until your child reaches about 4 feet, 9 inches, he will go through several car seats before being ready to use just your vehicle's built-in safety belts. The child's weight, height, and age are the most important criteria when choosing a car seat and deciding when to make the switch. For a detailed snapshot of the car-seat phases your child will go through, take a look at our types and time line section.

Where to buy?

Discount stores such as Kmart, Target, and Wal-Mart, and baby superstores such as Babies "R" Us, Baby Depot, and Buy Buy Baby have a large selection of car seats. Department stores are also a good source for child seats. You'll generally have to go to a specialty store or boutique-type store or online retailer to find higher-end models; we recommend shopping online only after you've had a chance to evaluate some models in person. Wherever you shop, make sure the child seat you're considering is compatible with your car. If the store won't let you test one, at least make sure you can return it if it doesn't work out--or go to another store.

The real child seat timeline

From birth until your child reaches a height of around 4 feet, 9 inches, he or she will potentially go through several car seats before being ready for the vehicle belts alone. But which type of seat should you use and when?

Kids all grow differently and have different body types, so no seat type will suit all kids in every scenario. But based on the growth pattern for most kids, this guide can be used to gauge what seats you'll likely need and when it's time to sit tight or move up to the next level.

Seat 1: Infant (rear-facing only) car seat

These seats are distinguished by a carrier that can be separated from a base that's installed in the car. Because of the convenience that the carrier offers in transporting a smaller baby, they are the first choice for most new parents. We also recommend these as a first seat because they typically provide a better fit for newborns and the installation of the separate base can prove easier for parents. Many models also have features that accommodate smaller newborns or preemies with weight limits as low as 4 lbs. (See our infant car seat video.)

In the past, infant seats were commonly used until the child reached 1 year of age, typically around 22 lbs. But extensive research has shown the benefits of keeping your child rear facing for longer. And Consumer Reports, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, now recommend using a rear-facing seat until a child reaches age 2 or when your baby reaches the seat's height and weight limits. (See our infant car seat Ratings, available to online subscribers, for a range of tested models.)

Weight limits for some models are still at 22 pounds, but more models now offer higher weight limits, with some up to 40 lbs. depending on the model to allow rear-facing use. But when considering weight and height limits together our observations indicate that your baby is more likely to outgrow an infant seat for height well before weight. Even though most seats can accommodate babies up until they reach between 30 and 35 lbs., those same seats also have height limits of 32 inches or less. Using growth charts developed by the Centers for Disease Control for babies, an average (50th percentile) baby reaches between 30 and 35 lbs. somewhere between the ages of 2 ½ and 4, but that same baby is likely to reach a height of 32 inches sometime around the age of 18 months. A child is often also too tall for a seat when their head is less than one inch from the top of the carrier's shell. In either case, what that means is that for most people in order to keep your child in the safest rear-facing orientation until the age of 2, your next seat will need to be a convertible seat used in its rear facing mode.

Many car-seat manufacturers offer a "travel system," including an infant car seat, a base, and a stroller or frame that you snap the infant carrier into. Many stand-alone strollers can accommodate infant car seats from various manufacturers. The upside of a travel system is that they're often a good value. But it's worth noting that these systems can be bulky. If you have to negotiate subway stairs, or your trunk is small, a separate car seat and seat-carrier frame or compact stroller might be a better choice.

Pros:

Keeping an infant rear-facing as long as possible offers the best protection. With its removable carrier and swing-up handle, an infant seat lets you move baby out of the car without disturbing him. But an infant car seat should be used for travel and short naps only.

Cons:

Once your infant grows too heavy or too tall for an infant seat but isn't old enough to turn forward-facing, you should switch to a rear-facing convertible model. (We recommend not facing forward until 2-years old.) It might be tempting to just buy a convertible seat to use from birth, but our tests have found that infant seats provide babies with a more secure fit than most convertibles. If your baby reaches the height or weight limit of the infant seat and is at least 2-years old, he can face forward in either a convertible seat or a toddler-booster with a 5-point harness. (See toddler booster seats, below.)

Seat 2: Convertible seat

A convertible seat is a seat that can be positioned in a vehicle in either a rear or forward-facing orientation. Based on the facts presented above, it's likely a child will outgrow their infant (rear-facing only) seat with the carrier before they reach the recommended rear-facing at age 2. So a convertible seat in this orientation will likely be most children's second seat. Although they offer slightly higher weight limits than the infant seats (between 35 and 45 lbs.), their longer shell lengths allow even taller toddlers to stay rear-facing longer.

Many convertible models are often higher in price than infant seats, but with many offering a wide range of weight and height limits, they can be used for many years. Some models are still rated to a 40-lb. harness limit, but like the infant models, more and more allow higher weight use with the harness. Most are around 65 lbs. If you choose one with this higher forward-facing weight limit, it's likely that once a child reaches that point they will be able to transition directly to a booster. (See Convertible seat Ratings.)

Don't worry about your child's comfort when sitting rear-facing longer, as kids are more flexible than we are and likely comfortable in this position. Plus, crash data shows that lower-extremity injuries (such as those to the legs) are rare for children who ride rear-facing and are as likely to happen rear-facing as forward facing. Riding forward-facing does increase the risk of head and spinal injuries, however, which are far more serious than a broken leg.

Pros:

Convertible models allow you to switch the seat from rear- to forward-facing when your infant becomes a toddler. This saves you the expense of purchasing another seat. And the higher rear-facing weight capacities of these seats allow you to keep larger babies in the safer rear-facing orientation until age 2.

Cons:

They don't offer the convenience of a separate infant seat carrier, and they're not compatible with strollers, so you'll have to transfer your baby to a carriage or stroller when you get out of your car, an inconvenience if you take the child on frequent errands. Also, many do not fit newborns as well as a dedicated rear-facing infant seat.

Seat 3: Booster seat

When your child reaches the weight and height limits of the harness system of either their convertible or toddler-booster seat, it's time for a belt-positioning booster seat for your child. Boosters raise the child up in the vehicle seat to allow the seatbelt to pass correctly across their sternum (not their necks) and low across the child's upper thigh area (not their abdomen). Studies have found that children ages 4 to 8 who use a belt-positioning booster seat are 45percent less likely to sustain injuries than children of similar ages who use the vehicle safety belt alone.

Highback boosters also better position the shoulder belt with use of an internal guide and also provide some side impact protection, which is why we recommend them over the backless style.

When your child is tall enough to use the car's safety belts and is comfortably seated, typically when they are at least 57 inches (4 foot, 9 inches) tall and between 8- and 12-years old, then they can then ride without a car seat. Take care to note if the belts are low and their hips or across their neck or face. If so, a booster may still be needed. More states have enacted booster seat legislation requiring their use up to as high as age 8 or when they reach 80 lbs. Even with a seat belt, all children under age 13 should ride in the back seat.

Pros:

Many are relatively inexpensive. High-back models with belt-positioning guides can position the shoulder belts better in different vehicles.

Cons:

Boosters can tempt parents to stop using a seat with a harness prematurely because they're often easier to use and they allow a car's safety belts to fit properly. The latest safety research shows that it's best to keep children in a harness as long as possible before switching them to a booster.

All-in-one car seat

As the name implies, all-in-one models are designed to take a child from birth to booster use. Though they seem like a good value, and our evaluations of these seats show that though they do a lot, they actually don't do any of their tasks especially well. And they don't offer the convenience of the infant carrier. These seats offer some value in that they can serve as the only car seat you'll ever need to buy and may also be a good option for a caregiver that transports a child less frequently or as a backup seat for another vehicle.

Pros:

These seats offer a potential value, as they may be the only seat your child may ever need. Higher rear- and forward-facing harnessed weight capacities and longer shells allow children to stay in a safer mode (rear facing rather than forward-facing, and in a 5-point harness vs. a 3-point vehicle belt) longer, rather than moving to the next step too soon.

Cons:

These don't offer the convenience of a separate infant carrier for smaller babies, and their larger size may not fit the smallest newborns as well as dedicated infant seats do. Since all-in-ones are typically larger and longer seats, they may not fit in a small car when installed rear-facing.

Toddler booster seat

If by chance you have a shorter or smaller child that actually makes it to age 2 within the allowable height and weight recommendations of their rear-facing infant seat, you may opt for a toddler booster in lieu of a convertible as your second seat. These seats offer the protection of the internal harness up to a certain weight and height limits (most between 20 and 65 lbs.). Once they outgrow the built-in harness, the harness can be removed and the seat transitions to a booster seat.

But regardless of manufacturer's stated weight minimums, we don't recommend placing a child as small as 20 pounds in any forward-facing seat. And while some children younger than 3 years might be heavy enough to meet the lower-end of the weight range of a belt-positioning booster, they're better protected in a harnessed seat. Just as research has found that it's best to keep children in rear-facing seats, it also shows that they're safer with a 5-point harness than with a vehicle's 3-point safety belt when forward facing. Five-point-harnesses are inherently safer than car seats--that's why race-car drivers wear them. So even if your child has reached the weight and height minimums for a belt-positioning booster, don't switch until the child outgrows the height and weight maximums for his harnessed seat.

Toddler-booster seats may also be a good option if you have a second child that needs to use a convertible seat rear-facing (see above) but your first child isn't yet old enough for a booster. These models also tend to be slightly less expensive than convertible models. (See Toddler booster Ratings.)

Pros:

The ability to accommodate a wide range of sizes and weights increases the useful life of these seats and allows you to keep your child secured with a built-in harness longer, a safer alternative to an unharnessed booster.

Cons:

Some high-back models can interfere with the headrests in certain cars, making it hard to get the seat to fit properly.

Built-in seats

A few vehicles offer integrated forward-facing booster seats for toddlers that are built into the vehicle. Be sure to consult the vehicle owner's manual for the weight and height limits.

Pros:

They're convenient to use and easy to convert back to a standard seat for adults or older children.

Cons:

They don't include the side bolsters that a high-back booster seat has and that can provide some added protection in a side impact. And you'll still need a proper car seat when your child rides in other vehicles.

Features


Some car-seat features provide important safety and convenience benefits; others are just frills. Here are features to think about before you buy.

LATCH connections


Since Sept. 1, 2002, all child car seats with a built-in harness­--and nearly all passenger vehicles sold in the United States--have included equipment designed to make child-seat installation simpler. That system, called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), consists of elements that connect the car seat to metal anchors in a vehicle. (If you have an older car, you can still use the vehicle safety belts to install a LATCH-equipped child seat.)

The LATCH system isn't perfect but it can make installation easier than using the vehicle safety belts. Some anchors are hard to reach; you might have to dig around between the seat cushions to find them. Make sure to review the owner's manual for your car since it will help you find the anchors and should also have information about using them with car seats and info on weight limits. Most vehicles have LATCH anchors only on the outboard positions of the rear seat rather than in the center, which is considered the safest place to put a car seat. Despite its flaws, LATCH installation eliminates some of the incompatibility that might exist when you install a child seat using only the car's safety belts. However, LATCH does have its limits and in February 2014, new labeling was required for car seats to clarify what the limits of LATCH are for each seat. (See: "What parents need to know about the new LATCH car seat rule.")

What works: "Hook"-style LATCH connectors. These connectors, which come attached to your car seat, might require a twist to remove them from the anchors, and the anchors might not be accessible enough to do that easily.

What's better: "Push-on" style LATCH connectors. These are easier to use than hook-style LATCH connectors, especially in cars where the LATCH anchors are recessed or otherwise hard to reach. Push-on style connectors are often much easier to detach than the hooks as well, since they don't require a twist. (Learn more about LATCH in our report "Child Seats LATCH for Safety.")

Top tether


Don't forget the top tether. In addition to the lower LATCH anchors in the back seat, nearly all vehicles for model year 2001 and later have a place to attach a top tether. All forward-facing harnessed seats include a tether that consists of a strap in the back with a hook on the end, which you can attach to the top tether anchor. Top tethers significantly reduce a child's potential for head and other injuries, but research has found many parents don't use them.

Harnesses


Most infant, convertible, and toddler seats have a built-in adjustable five-point harness system, with two straps over the shoulders, two for the thighs, and a crotch strap. A five-point harness system is more secure than a three-point system, with two shoulder straps that come together at a buckle in the shell or a crotch strap. The extra straps will spread the impact of a crash more evenly across a child's body. The thigh and crotch straps also help prevent "submarining," or sliding out of the harness in a crash.

What works: Harness slots. These let you adjust the height of the harness by rethreading the harness through different slots in the fabric and seat shell. Seats with harness slots are a bit more cumbersome to adjust than those that adjust via an external knob or slide. The more slots there are, the better the seat can accommodate a child's growth and children of different sizes. If you're shopping for a seat with a greater range of weight capacity, look for the most slots in the seat.

What's better: External harness adjustment. This feature allows you to adjust the harness height without having to remove the seat from the car or remove and rethread the harness straps through slots in the seat's shell. The best versions have a knob or slide that moves the harness up or down easily with continuous, rather than pre-set, positions.

Recline adjustment


Some rear-facing seats have multiple base positions, which can help you attain the correct recline angle on different vehicle seats. The Chicco KeyFit 30, for example, has five base positions and retails for $180. Multiple adjustments can offer better potential for the seat to be adjusted for vehicle seats with different cushion angles to allow smaller babies to be correctly reclined without the need for added tools such as a rolled towel or pool noodle. The angle can be adjusted to a more upright position as you child grows.

What works: A single "foot." This allows you to recline a rear-facing seat base to a single angle and is most often used on inexpensive or base models of rear-facing-only seats as well as on convertibles seats to change the seat between forward- and rear-facing orientations.

What's better: Multiple recline adjustments. They not only help you to get the correct angle with a rear-facing seat even on different vehicle seat cushions but can be used to make children more comfortable when facing forward. Some convertible and forward-facing models that claim to have forward-facing recline adjustment might not adjust much or might have restrictions on using the adjustment.

Recline level indicators


These indicators will tell you whether or not you have a rear-facing seat sufficiently reclined (usually between 30 and 45 degrees) to allow your child's airway to be open and keep her head from falling forward while she's sleeping, which could an injury in a crash.

The best versions are easy to read and appear on both sides of the seat, so they're visible when installed on either side of the car's back seat). With any recline indicator, it's important that the car be parked on level ground.

What works: A line or other reference on the seat that is positioned parallel (or otherwise level to the ground) to indicate the correct recline position, an estimation that might not be that precise.

What's better: A ball or bubble-type indicator. This option gives you an easier-to-read indication that the seat is correctly reclined. The best versions appear on both sides of the seat and include different ranges depending on the child's weight.

Fabric

Today's car seats cater to every taste: Do you want a seat with a design that looks like it was inspired by modern art, or covered in pink butterflies? Seeking something less splashy like a "Lapis" blue, or a simple black with piping? You can find it out there. Babies are messy, so washable fabric is a plus, if not a must. Some upholstery requires hand washing and line drying. And removing upholstery requires extensive dismantling of the seat's components, so check the instructions before you start taking things apart. Leather may look good, but it can become hot in the sun and cold in winter.

Covers, padding and cushions

Use them only if they're made for your specific seat by the same maker, and have been tested with the seat in government crash tests. As a general rule, only accessories that come with a seat are approved to be used with that seat. Add-on seat covers to keep small bodies warm (also known as "boots"), thicker padding, and adjustable head-support cushions are available for some seats. Add-ons can make the seat more comfortable, especially if they accommodate children of a significant range of ages or sizes.

Brands

Baby Trend arrow  |  Britax arrow  |  Chicco arrow  |  Clek arrow  |  Combi arrow  |  Cosco arrow  |  Cybex arrow  |  Diono arrow  |  Dorel arrow  |  Evenflo arrow  |  Graco arrow  |  Harmony arrow  |  Kiddy arrow  |  Lamaze arrow  |  Mia Moda arrow  |  Orbit Baby arrow  |  Peg Perego arrow  |  Recaro arrow  |  Safety 1st arrow  |  Summer Infant arrow  |  Sunshine Kids arrow  |  Teutonia arrow  |  The First Years arrow

You can compare car seats by brand. If you don’t see a model in our Ratings (available to subscribers), these profiles can help you learn about a manufacturer and what it offers (listed below in alphabetical order).

Baby Trend

A manufacturer of juvenile products from bouncers to child restraints, Baby Trend distinguishes itself as a manufacturer of innovative child products such as the Snap-N-Go and Sit-N-Stand stroller systems. Baby Trend infant child seats incorporate their own unique LATCH connector.

Britax

A British company that now manufactures seats in the U.S. as well. Britax seats are often considered a high-end product and incorporate many safety and ease-of-use features but often also have a higher price.

Chicco

An Italian company that is one of the newest manufacturers to enter the child-seat market in the U.S., Chicco currently offers only an infant child seat for the U.S. market.

Clek

A relatively new name in child restraints, Clek currently offers a range of booster seats with premium materials, some with LATCH attachments, and unique names such as Oobr and Olli. Some seats even carry designer patterns such as those from Paul Frank.

Combi

Combi offers a variety of child products, including child seats, strollers, and bouncers, that are most often found in boutique-type retail stores.

Cosco

One of the brand names of child products under the Dorel Juvenile Group, Cosco is known for child products at a value price.

Cybex

A Europe-based company, Cybex is new to the child-restraint market in the U.S. Cybex offers a full line of innovative child travel products and carriers in Europe, and is known for its innovative designs and fabrics. Cybex seats are distributed in the U.S. by Regal Lager, based in Georgia.

Diono

Previously known as Sunshine Kids juvenile products, the new Diono brand name represents a worldwide company that makes "thoughtful car seat and family travel safety accessories and products."

Dorel

The Dorel Juvenile Group manufactures and distributes seats under the Cosco, Eddie Bauer, Maxi-Cosi, Quinny, and Safety 1st names in the U.S. Safety 1st is known not just for child restraints but for many child-care and home-safety products. Cosco and Eddie Bauer are popular child-restraint and child-care-product brands. Maxi-Cosi and Quinny are European-styled child seats and products.

Evenflo

A popular manufacturer of baby care and juvenile products. Evenflo products are available at popular large retail outlets such as Walmart.

Graco

One of the world’s best-known names in child-care products. Graco originated popular products such as the Swyngomatic baby swing sold in the 1950s, and later Pack n’ Play portable play yards. Graco has the largest share of the child-seat market in the U.S. and is part of the Newell Rubbermaid group of companies.

Harmony

A relatively new name among child car seat manufacturers, the Harmony Juvenile Group currently makes a group of backless and highback booster seats, including those under the Secure Juvenile Group name. Harmony markets its products as being "bigger than most, providing more room for your child to grow."

Kiddy

Kiddy is a 40-year-old, family-owned company based in Germany.  It manufactures strollers, car seats, and accessories.  Kiddy products are mostly available online.
www.kiddyusa.com

 

Lamaze

A group of child products previously under The First Years name that is now marketed to select retailers as Lamaze.

Mia Moda

An Italian company known for its European-styled child products, including car seats, strollers, and travel systems. Mia Moda means "my style" in Italian. 

Orbit Baby

Orbit Baby is a relatively new name in child restraints and travel products based near San Francisco, and known for its high-end products. Orbit Baby products are often differentiated by their versatility and features that allow movement and easy integration between its child-seat bases and other products using its unique hub system. Orbit Baby products often appear in testimonials by celebrities and are marketed to them as well, with available features such as a sun-shade cover for its seats called a "paparazzi cover."

Peg Perego

An Italian manufacturer of many child products, including child seats. Like Britax’s, Peg Perego's products are often considered high-end and are available mostly in boutique-type retail outlets.

Recaro

A German company more commonly associated with automobile seats than child seats, Recaro’s reputation is well known in original equipment automobile and motorsport seat technology but extends to a full line of child restraints and aircraft seats as well. Recaro offers a range of child restraints from convertibles to boosters in the U.S.

Safety 1st

One of the brands offered under the larger Dorel Juvenile Group company, Safety 1st is well known for its home safety products, but also makes play and travel safety products. Safety 1st  offers the widest range of products in the Dorel group.

Summer Infant

Covering a range of baby products from bath to bedtime, Summer Infant's innovative Prodigy infant seat is new to the child-restraint market, and offers innovative Smartscreen technology and a belt-tightening mechanism intended to help parent's achieve a correct and secure installation.
 

Sunshine Kids

Sunshine Kids Juvenile Group is known for its line of steel-reinforced child restraints with innovative features intended to address common issues related to child safety. Sunshine Kids child car seats were some of the first to incorporate higher harness-weight capacities for larger kids.  It has changed its name to Diono.

Teutonia

A German company originally known for its stroller designs, Teutonia became part of the Newell Rubbermaid group of companies in 2007 as Teutonia USA. Graco--another well-known child-product brand--is also part of the Newell Rubbermaid group.

The First Years

The First Years brand offers child seat, travel, feeding, and care products, some of which bear other recognizable names such as Thomas & Friends Wooden Railroad, Chuggington, and Lamaze (all under parent company Tomy).

Preemies and special needs

There are many reasons you might need to seek out a special car seat.

Small car beds are available for preemies and other very small newborns who might not fit securely in a conventional infant car seat. Some manufacturers have developed conventional infant car seats for babies who weigh less than 5 pounds. Car beds are available for infants who are unable to travel in a conventional infant car seat and must be transported lying down because of a medical condition. In addition, there are specially designed car seats for children with breathing problems, hip casts, neurological disorders, and other physical disabilities. Judith Talty, director of the Automotive Safety Program at the Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University, notes that parents work with their child's medical team to determine their most appropriate child restraint option. A doctor's prescription is usually required to obtain car beds for infants or purchase large medical seats for older children. "It's a medical decision," she said.

When looking for a seat appropriate for your tiny newborn, consider the following:

  • Most rear-facing car safety seats are designed by the manufacturer to be used by infants weighing more than 4 or 5 lbs., with some that specify "from birth," regardless of weight. Care should be taken to choose a restraint that can accommodate a baby's lower weight, but also has sufficient adjustability in the harness and crotch straps to fit smaller infants securely. Look for car seats that have a shorter distance between the crotch strap and seat back, and that have harness slots low enough that the straps can be placed at or below the shoulders of the infant when seated. If needed, a small rolled towel can be added between the crotch strap and the infant, as well as between the infant and the sides of the seat to reduce the risk of the infant sliding forward under or out of the harness.
  • Traditionally, rear-facing infant carriers should be reclined to about a 45-degree angle to help prevent an infant's head from falling forward and potentially causing breathing difficulties. Infants whose necks cannot yet support their heads in this semi-reclined position may need to be transported in a fully-reclined car bed.

Things we learned about keeping them safe in and out of the car:

  • Though it is common for hospitals to observe the child's breathing and muscle tone prior to discharge from the hospital, it is recommended that these observation periods be as long as 90 to 120 minutes to simulate travel times that will potentially be of that length, and that those observations be conducted in the child's own seat and in a position that will be used in the car.
  • The duration of time infants should be seated in a car safety seat should be minimized. Use car seats only for travel.
  • Babies who are prone to respiratory or other medical issues in the car seat may also be susceptible to those same conditions when in their swings, ‘bouncy' seats, and carriers. Use of these items should be limited until after the child has been shown to be stable when semi-reclined.
  • If the child is required to travel with additional equipment such as monitors or supplemental oxygen, care should be taken to wedge or secure those devices in the vehicle to eliminate them becoming a "projectile" in a crash or during hard braking.

Parents with questions should consult their pediatrician and go to the Automotive Safety Program.

There are occupational therapists on staff who conduct safe travel evaluations for children with disabilities. The toll free number is 1-800-755-0912.

Heavier children

If your child is overweight, it doesn't necessarily mean you should move them to the next level in car seats. The child may not be behaviorally ready and/or their musculoskeletal system may not be strong enough to take the same forces of a vehicle crash as an older child, without additional risk of injury.

It is key to recognize that each step "forward" to the next type of child restraint (rear-facing to forward-facing, booster seat to vehicle seatbelts) actually represents a step "backward" in terms of the level of safety provided to your child. When your child reaches the limits of their infant car seat, transition them to a rear-facing convertible model that has a rear-facing weight limit of 30 lbs. or more, and don't move them forward-facing until they've reached that weight. Or, consider a new rear-facing infant seat that has a rear-facing limit of 30 lbs. or more as well. This option allows you to keep using an infant carrier.

If you have a child over 40 lbs., look for new models that have higher harness weight limits. Also, consider a model that lets your child stay in a five-point harness until she is 50 lbs. or more, and then transition to a belt-positioning booster for the next step. If a child is large enough that even the higher-weight seats are too big or if they are too wide to fit most of these seats comfortably, you may want to consider a travel vest. At least one has a limit of 168 lbs. (See healthychildren.org for more information.)

In some circumstances, it might be better to keep older children buckled with a 5-point harness. For example, an emotionally or developmentally disabled child might need extra restraint. It is possible to buy, for example, a toddler booster seat and use a 5-point harness on it that will hold a 100-pound youth in place.

   

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