Car Seats

When I was a kid, I used to ride stretched out in the back window of the car with my carsick bucket. Hmm, so wrong. We’ve learned a few things since then.

Even today, an average of 900 children die in car accidents every year, more than 2 little ones each and every day.  One in three children who die in motor vehicle accidents are not buckled up. There is a real racial difference: one in four of the white kids who died were not buckled; this increased to almost half in the black and hispanic children who died in accidents. There is also a socioeconomic difference: not everyone can afford a car seat. Last, there is a geographic difference: far fewer children die in car accidents in states where car seat usage is mandated by law.

Buckle your child into an approved car seat any time your car is in motion, no exceptions. Bad things happen suddenly; prevention is much easier than regret.

Which car seat you buy depends on your child’s size, his or her age, and the type of car you drive. Read your car manual and the car seat’s manual because instructions and weight limits vary quite a bit between brands. Some general guidelines:

  • Infants and toddlers under two face backward as long as they fit. You can smush them a little. Check your seat instructions: there will be a maximum height or weight listed.
  • Toddlers and young children go in forward-facing car seats as long as they fit. They no longer fit if their head is above the back of the car seat with nothing to support it. Check that maximum height or weight listed on your car seat instructions again.
  • When they no longer fit into the car seat, they go in booster seats until the seat belt fits.
  • Seat belts fit when the upper belt lies over the shoulder and chest (not the neck) and the lower belt lies across the hips. Generally, that’s when the child is between eight and twelve and about four-foot-nine.
  • Children under 13 need to ride in the back seat.
  • If you have questions or just want someone to double-check your installation, local fire or police departments are usually more than happy to help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a comprehensive review of car seats, kept up to date every year, at Read through it for more precise information on seats specific to your child’s age.

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