Car Safety Seat Checkup
Car Safety Seat Checkup
Using a car safety seat correctly makes a big difference. Even the ­“safest”
seat may not protect your child in a crash unless it is used correctly. So take a
minute to check to be sure.
8Does your car have air bags?
• Never place a rear-facing car safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle that
has a front ­passenger air bag. If the air bag inflates, it will hit the back of
the car safety seat, right where your baby’s head is, and could cause
serious injury or death.
• The safest place for all children to ride is in the back seat.
• If an older child must ride in the front seat, a child in a forward-facing car
safety seat with a harness may be the best choice. Just be sure the
vehicle seat is moved as far back from the dashboard (and the air bag) as
8Is your child facing the right way for weight,
height, and age?
• All infants should always ride facing the back of the car until they have
reached at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds (Figure 1).
• A child who weighs at least 20 pounds or exceeds the height limit for the
car safety seat before she reaches 1 year of age should be moved to a
seat with higher weight and height limits and continue to ride rear-facing
until she reaches the highest weight or height allowed by the car safety
seat manufacturer.
• A child who weighs more than 20 pounds and is older than 1 year may
face forward (Figure 2). It is best to ride rear-facing as long as possible.
• Once your child faces forward, she should use a car safety seat with a full
harness until she reaches the top weight or height allowed by the seat.
8Is the harness snug?
• Harnesses should fit snugly against your child’s body. Check the car
safety seat instructions on how to adjust the straps.
• The chest clip should be placed at armpit level (Figure 2) to keep the
harness straps on the shoulders.
8Has your child outgrown the forward-facing
• Use a belt-positioning booster seat until your child is big enough for the
seat belt to fit properly. A belt-positioning booster seat is used with a lap
and shoulder belt (Figure 3).
• A seat belt fits properly when the shoulder belt crosses the chest and
shoulder, the lap belt is low and snug across the thighs, and the child is
tall enough so that when he sits against the vehicle seat back, his legs
bend at the knees and his feet hang down.
8Does the car safety seat fit correctly in your
• Not all car safety seats fit properly in all vehicles.
• When the car safety seat is installed, be sure it does not move side to
side or toward the front of the car.
• Read the section on car safety seats in the owner’s manual for your car.
8Is the seat belt in the right place and pulled
• Route the seat belt through the
correct path. Convertible seats have
different belt paths for rear-facing and
forward-facing (check your
instructions to make sure).
• Pull the belt tight. Kneel in the seat to
press it down and get out all the
• Check the owner’s manual for your
car to see if you need a locking clip.
Check the car safety seat instructions
to see if you need a tether to keep the
car safety seat secure.
Figure 1. Infant-only car safety
8Can you use the LATCH
• LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers
for Children) is an attachment system
that ­eliminates the need to use seat
belts to secure the car safety seat.
• Vehicles with the LATCH system have
anchors located in the back seat. Car
safety seats that come with LATCH
have attachments that fasten to these
• Nearly all passenger vehicles and all
car safety seats made on or after
September 1, 2002, come with
• Unless both the vehicle and the car
safety seat have this system, seat
belts are still ­needed to secure the
car safety seat.
Figure 2. F orward-facing car
safety seat
Figure 3. B elt-positioning
booster seat
8Do you have the instructions for the car safety
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is not a testing or standard-setting organization, this guide
sets forth AAP recommendations based on the peer-reviewed literature available at the time of its publication
and sets forth some of the factors that parents should consider before selecting and using a car safety seat.
• Follow them and keep them with the car safety seat.
• Be sure to send in the registration card that comes with the car safety
seat. It will be important in case the seat is recalled.
Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is
not responsible for the content of the resources mentioned in this publication. Phone numbers and Web site
addresses are as current as possible, but may change at any time.
8Has the car safety seat been recalled?
• You can find out by calling the manufacturer or the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety Hot Line at 888/
DASH-2-DOT (888/327-4236) or the NHTSA Web site at www-odi.nhtsa.
• Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making any needed
repairs to your car safety seat.
The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice
of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on
individual facts and circumstances.
Illustrations by Wendy Wray.
From your doctor
8Are you using a used car safety seat?
• Do not use a car safety seat that has been in a crash, has been recalled,
is too old (check with the manufacturer), has any cracks in its frame, or is
missing parts.
• Make sure it has a label from the manufacturer and instructions.
• Call the car safety seat manufacturer if you have questions about the
safety of your seat.
If you have questions or need help installing your car safety seat, find a
certified child ­passenger safety (CPS) technician. A list of certified CPS
technicians is available by state or ZIP code on the NHTSA Web site at A list of inspection
stations—where you can go to learn how to correctly install a car safety
seat—is available in English and Spanish at or toll-free
at 866/SEATCHECK (866/732-8243). You can also get this information by
calling the toll-free NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hot Line at 888/DASH-2-DOT
(888/327-4236), from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers more information in
the brochure Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families. Ask your pediatrician
about this brochure or visit the AAP Web site at
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical ­sub­specialists,
and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Web site—
Copyright © 2009
American Academy of Pediatrics
All rights reserved.
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