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Guidelines for Securing Children in the Car Seat

Rear Facing Guidelines

  • Keep harness straps snug. You should be not be able to pinch harness webbing between your fingers when you grip it at your baby's collarbone.
  • Harness straps must be at or below your baby's shoulder level. If you find that even when putting the harness straps through the lowest slots, the harness straps are above the baby's shoulder level, you should not continue to use that seat until the baby grows into it.
  • Make sure the plastic chest clip is placed at the baby's armpit level. The chest clip is used to hold the straps in place so they can effectively hold your child down in the event of a crash.
  • Ensure that the car seat is installed at the correct recline level as indicated by the car seat manufacturer’s instructions according to the child’s age, height, and weight. The proper recline level is very important for infants that have no head or neck control. An appropriate recline level allows for a child’s airways to remain open.
  • It is currently recommended to rear face children as long as physically possible, which means to the upper height and weight limit of rear facing mode of their convertible car seats. Most convertible car seats have a rear facing weight limit of at least 40 pounds, which is your average four-year-old. The minimum goal for rear facing is age two. Rear facing car seats keep a child’s head, neck, and spine in a straight line in the event of a collision, which reduces the risk of severe spinal injuries. Leg space is not an issue, but rather perceived comfort as an adult.
  • Do not add anything to the car seat that did not come in the box with it, including extra padding, such as head huggers and harness strap covers, and toys. Extra padding adds space between the child and the harness, impeding a proper harness fit. Toys & mirrors become projectiles in a collision.

Forward Facing Guidelines:

  • Children who have outgrown the upper height and weight limits of their rear facing convertible car seat should be transitioned to a forward facing five point harness car seat in the back seat of the vehicle. If using a convertible car seat, ensure that the car seat is in forward facing mode according to the car seat manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Harness straps should be positioned at or above the child’s shoulders and should pass the pinch test.
  • Make sure that the chest clip rests at armpit level.
  • If your car seat is equipped with a tether strap on the back, use it. Forward facing car seats are equipped with a top tether strap. The top tether should be used for forward facing children in a five point harness whenever possible. Use of a top tether reduces forward movement in a crash by up to four to six inches. Always make sure that the top tether is attached to a designated tether anchor in the vehicle and not a cargo hook. This information can be found in the vehicle owner’s manual.

Read more information on the use of tether straps and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) universal attachment system.

Booster Seat Guidelines:

Many children transition to a booster seat too soon. To use a booster seat, children must be mature enough to sit upright and stay in proper position for the entirety of the car ride, even if they fall asleep. Children should remain in a five point harness until they outgrow the height and weight limits for harness use on their forward facing car seat. The minimum age recommended to transition to a booster is 5 years of age.

  • Booster seats raise children up so that the lap and shoulder belt fit them properly.
  • The lap portion should fit snugly and low over the hips. A lap belt that comes across the child's stomach could cause internal injuries in the event of a car crash. The shoulder strap should come across the child's chest, not his or her neck.
  • There are two types of booster seats: high back boosters and backless boosters. Proper use of either one shows no safety difference.
    • High back boosters are recommended for a child newly transitioning to a booster from a five point harness. They provide side and back support that reminds the child to stay in proper position.
    • Seat belts, on average, do not provide a proper fit until a child reaches a height of 4’9”. Most children need a booster until between the ages of 10 and 12.