When determining the type of car seat or restraint to use for your child, you must first understand where the safest place is for your child in the car. Once you know where your child will be sitting, you can then separate the types of restraints into two categories: back seat placement and front seat placement.
Back Seat Placement of Child Safety Seats
Infants, toddlers, and children should always ride in the back seat until they weigh at least 100 pounds and are able to see over the dashboard without straining. When sitting in the back, children should be using the correct car seat for their age, weight, and size. The following is a guide:
Rear-facing car seats. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children are placed in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible (at least until they weigh a minimum of 20 pounds) as they place children in the safest position in the event of a crash. Rear-facing car seats spread frontal crash forces over the whole area of a child's back, head, and neck while preventing the head from snapping forward. Children under the age of one also have a much greater risk of spinal cord injury in a front-facing car seat as their neck muscles aren’t strong enough to withstand such impact forces.
Forward-facing car seats. Forward-facing car seats are for babies and children who weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. The seat is installed using the car’s safety belt or latch system. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully when installing car seats. If you need assistance, most fire departments offer car seat installation help. Once the seat is installed, the child is restrained with the five-point harness attached to the seat. Make sure it fits snugly and adjust the height as the child grows.
Booster seats. Children in kindergarten or older who exceed 40 pounds should ride in booster seats once they outgrow their toddler car seats. Booster seats give the child an extra few inches of height in order for the safety restraint to be positioned correctly. When using a booster seat, you use the vehicle’s restraint system to secure the child’s torso and pelvis in order to prevent impact damage. As is key with all car seats, you must make sure the belt is positioned securely over the child’s hip bones and collarbone in order to spread the crash forces evenly across the body.
Children Sitting in the Front Seat
An airbag could seriously injure or kill a child if its impact point is too high. Before allowing your child to sit in the front, make sure he is tall enough that if the airbag should deploy it will impact his chest, not his head, chin, or neck. A good age is around 13-years old.
Seat belts. Car seats and boosters should never be used in the front seat of a vehicle, as deployment of the airbag can cause serious damage. Therefore, if your child is big enough to safely sit in the front he needs to wear his seat belt properly.
Air bag activation. Most newer cars with airbags now have an indicator light letting you know when the passenger in the front seat is heavy enough to activate the airbag. If your child does not activate the air bag, do not allow him to ride in the front seat.
For more information on car seat safety, check out our extensive library of blogs and FAQs. If your child was injured in a car accident that was caused by a negligent driver, contact us directly at 800.636.3676. We’ll be more than happy to answer your questions and discuss your options.