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Installing and Using Child Safety Seats and Booster Seats

Proper restraints for children riding in motor vehicles depend on the child's age and size. Restraints to keep a child safe in the car include:

The key to keeping your child safe is to use an age-appropriate child restraint that is properly installed and properly used.

Infant and child safety seats come in many shapes and sizes. Some are not compatible with certain vehicles. The best child safety seat for a family is the one that is easy to use for the parents or caregivers, fits in the vehicle's seats, is compatible with the vehicle's seat belts, and is the proper size for the child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a series of specific recommendations for the use of child safety seats:

The infant safety seat:

Infant safety seats are often small and portable seats used for babies up to age 1 and 20 pounds. Infant seats are rear-facing and may come with a three-point or a five-point harness. Some infant seats come with detachable bases that can be left belted into the vehicle so that the parent does not have to install the seat every time. (Some bases also are adjustable to correctly recline the infant.)

The child safety seat:

Child safety seats are either convertible seats or forward-facing seats.

The booster seat:

Booster seats help raise your child so that the vehicle's seat belts fit properly. Booster seats are necessary when a child outgrows his/her child safety seat, usually after 40 pounds or age 4. Children do not fit in adult shoulder/lap belts (without a booster seat) until they are 58 inches tall (with a sitting height of 29 inches) and weigh 80 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Booster seats should always be placed in the back seat of the vehicle. There are several types of booster seats, including:

Checking your car seat:

As many as 85 percent of child safety seats are found to be improperly installed and/or used when vehicles are stopped and checked, according to studies from National SAFE KIDS Campaign Car Seat Check Ups. Some of the most common mistakes in installing or using child safety seats include the following:

Parents and caregivers should carefully read their vehicle owner's manual and the instructions that come with the child safety seat to ensure proper installation and use of the seat. The NHTSA recommends doing the following quick safety seat assessment:

Replacing child safety seats and seat belts after a crash:

Once a vehicle has been in a severe crash, child safety seats and seat belts should be replaced because they may have become stretched or damaged. All child safety seats are replaced by insurance companies. Always check with your child safety seat manufacturer concerning questions about the safety of your child's seat.

When car seats are recalled:

Sometimes child safety seats are recalled for safety reasons. To check if your child safety seat has been recalled, call the seat's manufacturer or the Auto Safety Hot Line at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT. If the seat has been recalled, you will be instructed on how to repair it, or how to obtain parts to repair it.

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Online Resources of Safety & Injury Prevention

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