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A Guide to Child Safety Seats
Selecting a Seat, Installation and Properly Securing Your Child
All front seat passengers are to be buckled up; all passengers under age 16 are to be buckled up in all
seating positions; and all children under age 8 and 4’9” be properly secured in a child restraint system.
How Do You Select the Best Safety
Seat for Your Child?
When buying a child safety seat, remember to
select one that you will use correctly every time you
transport your child. Choose a seat that fits your
child, vehicle and budget.
All child safety seats must meet federal safety
standards. The seat should be age, weight and height
appropriate. Be sure to check manufacturer’s recommendations. Try installing the child safety seat in the
back seat of your vehicle to be certain that it fits and
can be tightly secured. Most stores will allow you to
try different models in your vehicle before purchase.
What Kinds of Child
Safety Seats Are There?
Infant-Only Seats - These child safety seats safely
accommodate infants from birth up to 1 year and at
least 20 pounds. Infant safety seats should be installed
to face the rear of the vehicle only and are secured by
the vehicle safety belt or LATCH system if provided
by the seat manufacturer (see section on LATCH).
Infants under one year of age AND under 20 pounds
must ride in a rear-facing position. Rear-facing infant
safety seats should have harness straps routed even
with or below the infant’s shoulders. Never install
a rear-facing child safety seat in the front seat of a
vehicle equipped with activated air bags.
Convertible Seats - These seats are designed for
use by infants and toddlers. They can be used in a
rear-facing position for infants under 1 year old and
up to 20 lbs. or in the forward-facing position for
toddlers up to 40 lbs. For infants exceeding 20 lbs.,
some convertible child safety seats are designed to
accommodate infants up to 35 lbs. in a rear-facing
position. Parents are encouraged to leave their infant
rear-facing as long as possible. Convertible child
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safety seats are available in three basic styles: 5-point
harness, T-shield and tray shield. Typically, those
equipped with a 5-pt. harness system fit small infants
best. Most convertible and forward-facing child safety
seats require using the upper harness slots when
the child is facing forward. Though a convertible
child safety seat would accommodate an infant, it
is best to begin with an infant-only seat for the best
possible fit.
High-back and no-back belt positioning
booster seats - Adult safety belts are inappropriate
for most children under age 8 and 4 feet 9 inches.
Booster seats are used as a transition from a toddler/
convertible safety seat to the adult safety belt positioning the child in proper alignment with the safety
belt giving them extra abdominal protection by
providing artificial hips. Booster seats can only be
used with a lap/shoulder belt combination.
Integrated Child Safety Seats - These seats are
intended for toddlers. They are built into the seat by
the vehicle manufacturer. Other versions are designed
for the forward-facing child over 20 pounds AND 1
year of age. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for
appropriate use.
How Do You Install A Child
Safety Seat Properly?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA), approximately eight out
of every ten child safety seats are not used correctly.
Read the child safety seat manufacturer’s instructions
and the vehicle owner’s manual before you install the
seat in your vehicle.
The vehicle owner’s manual will indicate if you
will need “extras” such as a locking clip that secures
the vehicle safety belt around the child safety seat.
A locking clip is a smooth metal device that slides
Rev. 4/08
onto the belt system and holds the overlapping belts
together, thus locking or preventing movement.
Instructions for using the locking clip can be found
in the child safety seat instructions or in the vehicle
owner’s manual.
How Do You Secure the
Child Safety Seat Tightly?
Many child safety seats will become loose if
the safety belt is not adjusted properly. Modern
continuous-loop shoulder/lap belts allow you to
move back and forth to reach or adjust the vehicle
controls. This safety belt system is called an “emergency locking retractor” (ELR). When a child safety
seat is held only with this type of belt system, it will
slip and move in the vehicle defeating its protective
features. A locking clip must be used to lock the belt
and tightly secure the child safety seat. An automatic
locking retractor (ALR) will keep the child safety
seat in the vehicle secure by automatically winding
excess slack back into the retractor. Newer model
motor vehicles have “switchable retractor” systems.
This system can manually be adjusted from an ELR
system to an ALR system for holding a child safety
seat. Refer to the “safety restraint” section of your
vehicle owner’s manual for details.
Facts about LATCH
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for
CHildren. New vehicles and child safety seats manufactured on and after September 1, 2002 are equipped
with the LATCH system. Attachments on a LATCHequipped child safety seat fasten to anchors in a
LATCH-equipped vehicle. Most LATCH-equipped
vehicles have anchors in the right and left rear seat
positions. If the center seat doesn’t have anchors, you
can still install your child safety seat using a safety
belt. If your child safety seat isn’t LATCH-equipped,
it’s still safe if it has been correctly installed using
a safety belt. Always read and follow the vehicle
owner’s manual AND child safety seat manufacturer’s instructions for correct installation and proper
use of the LATCH system. If your vehicle isn’t
LATCH-equipped, use the safety belt and, if available, a top tether. A tether (top strap) anchors the top
of a child safety seat to the body of the vehicle. The
use of a tether in addition to the safety belt to anchor
a forward-facing child safety seat reduces the risk of
serious injuries in a severe crash. A tether also stabilizes rear-facing child safety seats, however, only a
few rear-facing child safety seats are available with
tethers at this time. When the tether strap is not in
use, keep the strap, hook and mounting hardware
and other loose items in the vehicle properly stowed
to prevent them from becoming a projectile in the
event of a crash.
How Do You Properly
Secure Your Child in the Seat?
After securing the child safety seat to the vehicle,
it is equally important to properly secure the child
in the seat. All harness straps must be correctly
threaded and anchored to the child safety seat. The
retainer clip must also be adjusted so that it is at
armpit level to the child’s body. There should be no
more than one finger’s gap between the straps and
the child.
How do you properly secure your
child using a lap and shoulder belt?
To ensure proper fit, a lap belt should be fitted low
and snugly across the child’s hips - not across the
stomach. If the rear seat is equipped with a shoulder
belt, the belt should not lay across the child’s face or
the front of their neck. If it does, use a high back belt
positioning booster seat. It will direct the shoulder
belt in front of the child, so that it rests comfortably on
the child’s collarbone. Never place the shoulder belt
under a child’s arm or behind their back.
Should You Buy a
Second-hand Child Safety Seat?
You should never consider buying or using a
second-hand child safety seat unless you know its
history. It is very difficult to determine if a seat:
• has been recalled
• has been mistreated
• has been involved in a crash
• is missing any key components
• has reached its expiration date per the manufacturer
To obtain recall information on a particular
child safety seat, call the Auto Safety Hotline
888-DASH-2-DOT or visit their website
www.nhtsa.dot.gov
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