By Laura Conklin
Rock County Health Educator
Car crashes are the number one killer of children 1 to 12 years old in the United States.
The best way to protect them in the car is to put them in the right seat, at the right time, and use it the right way.
There are so many car seat types and models, how do you know which one is right for your child? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends these tips for finding the right car seat.
• Select a car seat based on your child’s age and size, and choose a seat that fits in your vehicle and use it every time.
• Always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions; read the owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or LATCH system; and check height and weight limits.
• To maximize safety, keep your child in the car seat for as long as possible; as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements.
• Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12.
Your child under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. There are different types of rear-facing car seats: Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible or 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.
For children 1-3 years of age, keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.
For children age 4-7 years, keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.
For children age 8-12 years, keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.
Remember, the right car seat will fit your child and your car. Not only will your child ride as safely as possible, you will be establishing the foundation for a lifelong habit of seat belt use every time your child travels.