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The Four Stages of Car Seats

Rear-Facing Car Seat

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) now recommend that all children should ride rear facing until 2 years of age or as long as the safety seat manufacturer allows. For optimal protection, use the rear-facing child restraint until the child is at the highest weight or height specified in the manufacturer's instructions or on the safety seat labels.

  • Always position a rear-facing car seat toward the rear of the vehicle.
  • Follow the installation instructions in the manual for the safety seat.
  • Position the seat at the appropriate recline angle
  • Run the harness straps through the slots at or below the infant's shoulders
  • Ensure that:
    • The belt path is closest to the bight of the seat;
    • The retainer clip is at armpit level;
    • The crotch strap is in the correct position and is not too long.

Forward Facing Car Seat

The forward-facing car seat should not be used until the child is at least 1 year of age, weighs at least 20 pounds, and has reached the highest allowed weight for a rear-facing safety seat. For optimal protection, use the forward-facing child restraint until the child is at the highest weight or height specified in the manufacturer's instructions or on the safety seat labels.

  • Always position a forward-facing car seat toward the front of the vehicle.
  • The safety seat should be kept in an upright positiona, although some manufacturers allow a semi-reclined position .
  • Run the harness straps should be run through the slots at or above the child's shoulders

Booster Seat

When the child reaches the upper weight and height limits specified for a forward-facing car seat, a belt positioning booster can be considered for use. A child should remain in the booster seat until he/she is at least 8 years of age and 4 feet 9 inches tall.

The booster seat requires the use of a lap/shoulder belt and boosts the child to better fit the vehicle seat belt system. The lap belt should fit low and tight across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should rest over the center of the shoulder through the center of the chest.

Adult Seat Belt

To be able to use an adult seat belt, the child should be at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and at least 8 years of age, and should be:

  • Tall enough to comfortably sit without slouching;
  • Able to keep his/her back against the vehicle seat back;
  • Able to keep his/her knees completely bent over the edge of the seat;
  • Able to keep his/her feet flat on the floor

The lap belt should fit low and tight across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should rest over the center of the shoulder through the center of the chest. If the seat belt does not fit properly, the child should use a booster seat.

Never put the shoulder belt under the child's arm or behind the child's back. This can cause serious internal injuries in a crash.