Keys to Keeping Your Baby Safe: Use Your Car Seat Correctly

You Have a Car Seat, Do You Use It Correctly?

April 2011

New Carseat Guidelines Focus on Age

New advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will change the way (and for how long) you buckle up your kids. The new policy advices that children should:

  • Ride rear-facing to at least age 2, and
  • Use a booster until at least age 8
Read more about the new guidelines.

Nearly 90 percent of all child car safety seats are installed incorrectly, which drastically reduces their effectiveness, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When properly installed, child safety seats reduce the risk of death or serious injury to infants by 71 percent, the NHTSA reports.

The most common error is that the car's safety belt does not hold the seat in tightly enough and the harness straps are not snug enough. Follow these tips to ensure that your child is adequately protected:

  • Restrain your child properly every time you ride in your vehicle. Three-quarters of all accidents occur close to home at low speeds.
  • Use only federally approved child-passenger restraints that are appropriate for the age, size and weight of your child.

  • Anchor car seats in place by using the car's lap seat belt, a shoulder/lap seat belt or the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system on newer model vehicles. Make sure that the seat belt is tight so that the car seat cannot budge. When using a shoulder/lap belt, use a locking clip to secure the shoulder and lap belts together at the point where they feed through the belt path of the car seat.
  • Always position your baby in an infant seat facing the rear of the car (ideally in the center of the backseat), until age 2, or until they have reached the maximum weight and height for the seat (which may be later than age 2). Convertible infant/toddler seats safeguard older babies and children up to 40 pounds.

  • Make sure your baby is securely harnessed in the car seat before swaddling with additional blankets or wraps.

  • Make sure that your caregivers always use the car seat properly.
  • Never re-use a car seat after it has been involved in a crash.
  • If you have an older car seat and want to use your new car's LATCH system, you can buy a retrofit kit. These kits cost about $25 at stores like Toys 'R' Us and Babies 'R' Us. They're available for seats made by most manufacturers, including Century, Evenflo, Cosco and Graco.
  • Be aware of product recalls. Car safety seats are among the most frequently recalled products.
  • For information on car seat recalls or to locate a child-safety-seat fitting station near you, check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Child Safety Seat Inspection Station Locator.
  • For information about standards and proper product usage, check out SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.'s Web site at