Young Children & Rear-Facing Seats
Why is riding rear-facing the safest way for young children to ride?
At birth, a child's head is large for its body and the bones are not fully hardened. In a 30 mile-per-hour crash into an immovable object, a 10-pound baby presses against the shell and padding of the seat with 300 pounds of force. Riding rear-facing provides more protection because the seat:
If a child is placed forward-facing too soon, in a crash, the force of the baby's heavy head whipping forward can stretch the ligaments in the spinal column up to two inches, but the spinal cord can stretch only one-fourth of an inch. Severe head injury or paralysis may occur.
As long as children do not exceed the height or weight limits of their rear-facing child restraint the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ride rear-facing to at least 2 years of age or until the child outgrows the rear-facing weight and height of their rear-facing only infant seat.
Table of Contents
- Young Children & Rear-Facing Seats
- Why is riding rear-facing the safest way for young children to ride?
- Considering a convertible car seat for a newborn baby?
- What car seats fit a premature or low birth weight baby best?
- When can my baby ride forward-facing?
- How do I know when my child has outgrown his/her infant seat? What should I do next to have the best protection for my child?
- I have a child who is big enough now for a convertible seat. What do I need to know?
- Preschoolers & Forward-Facing Seats
- Children & Belt-positioning Booster Seats
- Older Kids & Seat Belts
- Correct Installation
- Your child restraint may be incompatible with your vehicle or improperly installed if:
- My car seat moves more than one inch side-to-side even after I've tightened the seat belt. Should I buy and use one of those seat belt tightening devices?
- I've heard that most car seats are not used correctly. Where can I get my child's car seat checked?
- Children with Special Needs
- Other: Vehicles, Air bags...
- What about air bags?
- I can't afford a child car seat or booster. Is there somewhere I can get help?
- Where can I get car seat information in different languages?
- I've lost the locking clip that came with my car seat. Where can I get another one?
- Are you Pregnant?
- I have a question about car seats that is not answered here. Is there someone I can call to get more information?
Considering a convertible car seat for a newborn baby?
Rule number one: Not all seats fit properly into all cars.
What car seats fit a premature or low birth weight baby best?
Convertible Seats (rear-facing to forward-facing) are generally for full-term infants weighing 5 pounds or more. Check instruction books and labels for lowest weight limits. The Combi Coccoro Convertible seat is labeled for infants weighing 3 pounds or more while infant (rear-facing only) seats may begin at 4 pounds.
Select a seat with shoulder straps located 6 inches or less from the bottom of the seat. Use the harness in lowest set of slots. A crotch strap that is 5 ½ inches or less from the seat back will fit a small baby best. If needed, place a rolled washcloth between the baby's crotch and the crotch strap to keep baby from slouching. Two small rolled receiving blankets placed along the baby's body provide added support. Never place any extra padding behind or underneath the baby.
Many hospitals follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that babies born before 37 weeks should be tested in their car seat before going home. The test tells if heart rate, oxygen level or breathing problems will develop from car seat use. If they do, your baby may need to ride lying down in a crash-tested car bed.
When can my baby ride forward-facing?
Do not be in a hurry to move your child forward-facing. Riding rear-facing is than riding forward-facing if your child is still within the weight and height limits for the seat. Read the instruction book and the seat labels.
NEVER turn a baby forward facing before the minimum weight, height and age listed in the instruction book. Move a baby who outgrows their infant seat into a rear-facing convertible seat. Many convertible models can be used rear-facing to 40-50 pounds. If you have questions about a certain model, contact the manufacturer.
How do I know when my child has outgrown his/her infant seat? What should I do next to have the best protection for my child?
An infant seat is outgrown when:
Move the baby into a convertible seat that allows him/her to remain rear-facing. Follow manufacturer’s instructions to determine when you may turn your child forward-facing.
Remember that riding rear-facing offers the best protection for your baby's head, neck and spine. For optimal protection, the AAP recommends babies ride rear-facing in a convertible seat up to two years of age AND to the seat's highest rear-facing weight limit.
I have a child who is big enough now for a convertible seat. What do I need to know?
Convertible seats fit children 5 - 65 (or more) pounds depending on model. Read instructions and labels on the side of the seat. Choose a seat whose label specifies it has been tested for rear-facing use to a minimum of 40 or more pounds.
For optimal protection, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies ride rear-facing in a convertible seat up to 2 years of age and to the highest rear-facing weight limit of their seat.
Height of the top harness strap slots varies. Forward-facing, harness straps need to be in reinforced slots at or above the child's shoulders. Is there enough grow room?
In some seats, ONLY the top-most slots may be used when the seat is forward-facing. Read and follow the directions in manufacturer's instructions.
Preschoolers & Forward-Facing Seats
How do I know when my child has outgrown a convertible or forward-facing only car seat? What should I do next to provide the best protection for my child?
A forward-facing seat with a harness is outgrown when ONE of the following three things happens:
For best protection (when a child outgrows a convertible seat) use a forward-facing only seat with a harness (sometimes called a combination or harness-to-booster seat). These provide the protection of a harness to 70-90 pounds .
For tall/slim children, pay particular attention to the height of the highest set of harness slots. This "seated height" (fanny-to-top-of-shoulder) varies among car seat models. Choose one that will give the child enough room to grow.
On many models of "forward-facing only" seats, the harness can be removed/stowed and the seat becomes a belt-positioning booster seat for use in vehicles with lap and shoulder belts. Weigh and measure your child to assure child is within the minimum height and weight on labels.
Once a child exceeds the height or weight limits of their convertible or forward-facing harnessed seat, a belt-positioning booster seat should be used to properly position the adult lap and shoulder belt. A belt-positioning booster:
Children & Belt-positioning Booster Seats
Are children 4 to 8 years of age big enough to use the adult seat belt?
No! In a crash, children this age can be seriously injured by an adult lap and shoulder belt because it does not fit properly.
Did you know?
How does a booster seat provide protection?
Can my child use a booster if our car has only lap belts?
No! A booster seat requires both the shoulder AND the lap belt. Even though the child will not have upper body protection, a properly worn lap belt is still better than being unrestrained. Teach your child to wear the lap part of the belt down low on the hips, not up on the tummy.
I've heard small-shield booster seats are no longer recommended. Why?
These boosters are no longer being made and are too old for use.
Small shield boosters were originally designed for children 30-60 pounds, and were tested using a lap only belt and a dummy the size of a three-year old.
In 1996, the government's standards changed to require booster seats to be tested with a 47 pound crash test dummy the size of a six-year old child. Manufacturers revised instructions for shield boosters to allow use of the shield only until the child weighed 40 pounds. On some small shield booster seats, the shield could be removed and the base used as a backless belt positioning booster..
Children weighing less than 40 pounds should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they physically outgrow it.
Older Kids & Seat Belts
When is my child big enough to use the adult seat belt?
Keep using a booster seat until your child is about four feet nine inches tall. To see if the seat belt will fit your child, answer the following questions: *
If you answered "no" to any question, then the child should continue to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat.
Remember, check for good belt fit in all the cars your child rides in. Just because the seat belt system fits your child in one vehicle does not mean that the seat belt will fit correctly in all vehicles. You must perform this test in each vehicle your child rides in to assure proper belt fit.
Can I buckle two children into one seat belt?
No, two people should never use one vehicle seat belt! In a crash, two people sharing one seat belt will collide violently. Buckling two people into one seat belt could cause serious injury or death.
Is it OK for my child to put the shoulder belt behind his back or under his arm?
No, the shoulder belt restrains the upper body. Placing the shoulder part of the belt under the arm can break ribs causing them to injure internal organs. Putting the shoulder part of the belt behind the back not only takes away upper body protection; it keeps the seat belt system from working properly. In a crash, the lap part of the belt is tightened as the upper body moves forward pressing against (loads) the shoulder belt. Placing the shoulder portion of the seat belt behind one’s back results in a loose lap belt increasing the risk of serious injury.
Check the vehicle owner's manual to see if the shoulder belt in your vehicle has an adjustable anchorage. If not, for older child passengers, choose a booster seat that will properly adjust the belt fit.
Your child restraint may be incompatible with your vehicle or improperly installed if:
My car seat moves more than one inch side-to-side even after I've tightened the seat belt. Should I buy and use one of those seat belt tightening devices?
Vehicle manufacturers explain how to properly tighten their seat belts around a child car seat. You will find this information in your vehicle instructions. No vehicle manufacturer advocates the use of belt tightening devices. Car seat manufacturers also provide instructions on how to properly secure their car seat. No child restraint manufacturer advocates the use of belt tightening devices. Here is what two manufacturers have to say:
“While Evenflo does not have a specific note in the product instruction manual about belt tightening devices, we do state in our warnings section in every book DO NOT attach additional padding, toys or other devices not made by Evenflo or described in these instructions to the child restraint. Items not tested with the child restraint could injure the child. Evenflo does not sanction the use of the Mighty Tite or any other similar device with our products.” - By Randy Kiser Director, Product Safety, Research & Development Evenflo Company, Inc.
Another car seat manufacturer, Britax, says this about tightening devices: "The use of non-Britax Child Safety, Inc. covers, inserts, toys, accessories, or tightening devices is not approved by Britax. Their use could cause this restraint to fail Federal Safety Standards or perform worse in a crash. Their use automatically voids the Britax warranty".
I've heard that most car seats are not used correctly. Where can I get my child's car seat checked?
Children with Special Needs
I have a child with special medical needs. Where can I learn more about securing my child in the car?
Parents, health care providers and others can learn more about protecting children with special needs on the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site aap.org where you will find a list of medical conditions that affect how children fit into car seats, information about child restraint options and frequently asked questions about transporting children with special medial needs.
Other: Vehicles, Air bags...
What about air bags?
NEVER place a rear-facing infant in front of an active airbag. An unrestrained child, an infant riding rear facing or a child who is out of position (for example sitting forward on the edge of the vehicle seat) can be seriously injured or killed by an inflating air bag. Whether or not the car has air bags, the safest place for all children who are not yet 13 years old is in the rear seat.
The driver air bag is stored in the center part of the steering wheel and the passenger air bag is stored in the dashboard. It may be in the flat area just below the windshield or in the area facing the passenger. All cars since model year 1998 must have driver and passenger air bags. Both air bags were required in pickup trucks, SUV's, and vans starting in the 1999 model year. Many vehicles made in the 1990's also have air bags. Newer cars may have lower-speed air bags or "dual stage" air bags. These may reduce injuries but still can be deadly for rear-facing infants and unbuckled or improperly positioned children. To locate the air bags in your car read your vehicle owner's manual. Inside the vehicle, look for a warning label on the sun visor, or for word "Air bag" or the letters "SRS", or "SIR" embossed on the dashboard.
In a crash, air bags inflate very quickly and can hit a rear-facing safety seat hard enough to kill a baby. Infants must ride in the back seat, facing the rear of the car. Even in the back seat, never turn your baby to face forward until he or she is at least one year of age AND weighs at least 20 pounds.
If there is no room in the back seat and you have no alternative, a child over age one who rides in a forward-facing car seat may occupy the front seat. Move the vehicle seat as far back as possible and make sure the child is correctly restrained for his age and size. Fasten the child restraint harness snugly, or if the child uses a booster seat, make sure the child does not lean toward the dashboard.
Many sports cars and pickup trucks have no back seat or seats are too small to install a rear-facing car seat correctly. Many recent models come have a switch that allows the driver to turn the air bag off when transporting a baby or child in the front seat. However, manufacturers are not required to install them as standard equipment. Older trucks or sports cars with passenger air bags may not have on/off switches. In this case you may be able to get a switch installed. Click here for a “Request for Air Bag On-Off Switch” form.
Excerpted with permission from "Kids and Air Bags" a publication of Safe Ride News. Visit them online at saferidenews.com.
I can't afford a child car seat or booster. Is there somewhere I can get help?
Your doctor's office, police department, hospital, or health department may be able to direct you to a local program that can assist you in acquiring a child car seat or booster seat for your child.
Where can I get car seat information in different languages?
The Safety Restraint Coalition can provide most information in English and Spanish. Contact them at (425) 828-8975 or 1-800-282-5587. Outside Washington call the Auto Safety Hotline at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT
I've lost the locking clip that came with my car seat. Where can I get another one?
Some stores who sell car seats also sell replacement locking clips. You can also contact the car seat manufacturer, attend a car seat checkup clinic or contact your local Child Passenger Safety Team.
Are you Pregnant?
Now is a great time to learn how to keep you and your new baby safe in the car. Go to a car seat safety class if one is given by your hospital, health plan or clinic. This will help you learn about using car seats correctly from the start.
Pregnant mothers should always use a lap/shoulder belt.
Right now you are your baby's car seat. Avoid using a lap-only belt. Push the lap part of the belt down as far as possible below your belly. Check to make sure it stays low and snug. If you wear a heavy coat, open it and pull it away from your belly. This helps the lap part of the seat belt fit low and snugly. Never put the shoulder portion of the seat belt behind your back or under your arm. It should rest across your shoulder.
I have a question about car seats that is not answered here. Is there someone I can call to get more information?
Look up your local Child Passenger Safety Team or Safe Kids Coalition. The Safety Restraint Coalition answers questions about choosing and using child car seats, Washington’s child restraint and seat belt laws, has information about booster seats, a list of car seat recalls, and information about protecting children of all ages in the car. In the Seattle area, call 425-828-8975 or from other areas of Washington call toll-free at 1-800-BUCK-L-UP (1-800-282-5587) the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Auto Safety Hotline at 1-800-DASH-2-DOT.