Motor vehicle accidents are a major cause of child injury, and the second leading cause of child death in the U.S. Proper use of the proper car seat can hugely reduce the risks for your child. There are four stages of car safety restraints. To choose the right level for your child, it is more important to consider their height and weight than their age. To maximize safety, keep your child in each level of seat as long as possible, until they reach the maximum height and weight for that seat. Each stage provides less protection. Don’t move your child to the next stage until you have to.
Rear-Facing. (Birth to age 2 or beyond) Infant Seat: Weight up to 22 – 35 pounds and height up to 29 – 32 inches, depending on the seat. Convertible Seat: Weight up to 45 pounds, maximum height 40 inches for rear-facing or larger in some select seats. American Academy of Pediatrics says children should ride rear-facing until they are at least 2 years of age, and then until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their seat. Riding rear-facing reduces the risk of severe injury by 75%.
Forward-Facing Car Seat with a 5-point Harness. (Age 2 – 7 or beyond). Maximum weight 40 – 90 pounds. Maximum height up to 50 inches. When you install a seat forward facing, be sure to use the tether strap to secure the top as well as buckling in the base.
Booster Seat. (Age 4 – 10) Up to 100 – 120 pounds. From 34 – 63”. Children should be mature enough to sit properly in a booster and not play with the seat belt. Washington State requires kids to use a child safety seat until they are at least 8 years old or taller than 4’9”, whichever comes first.
Seat Belt. (Age 8 – 12) If your child is 8 – 12 years old and at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, AND you can answer yes to these questions, then they’re ready to move out of a booster seat.
- When child is sitting back in seat, do his knees bend comfortably at the edge of vehicle seat?
- Does the lap belt stay on the top of the child’s thighs, not up on their belly?
- Is the shoulder belt center on the child’s chest and shoulder?
- Can the child stay seated this way for the whole trip? (e.g they won’t put the shoulder part of their seat belt under their arm or behind their back?)
Front Seat. By Washington law, all children should ride in the back seat of the car until age 13. (Exceptions for: pickup trucks or sports cars with no back seat)
More info: www.800bucklup.org; www.safercar.gov/parents; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx
Educator Resource: I have two handouts on this topic – a 1 page summary (the info on this page, plus illustrations) and a 2 page version with more details.