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Car Seat Safety Tips

By using your car seat properly and following these tips, you can reduce the risk of injury related to car accidents.

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1. Make sure your child rides in the back seat. The back seat is generally the safest place in a crash. If your vehicle has a passenger air bag, it's essential for children 12 and younger to ride in the back seat.

2. Check to see that the safety belt holds the seat tightly in place. If your child safety seat can be used facing either way, use the correct belt slots for each direction. The safety belt must stay tight when securing the safety seat.

3. Make sure the harness is buckled snugly around your child. Keep the straps over your child's shoulder. The harness should be adjusted so you can slip only one finger underneath the straps at your child's chest. Place the chest clip at armpit level.

4. Register your car seat with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) so that you'll be notified if your child seat is included in a manufacturer's recall. Download the NHTSA's registration form (PDF format; requires free Adobe Reader software); the NHTSA will forward your information to the manufacturer. For more information on child safety seats, visit nhtsa.gov.

Choosing the Right Car Seat for Your Child

The type of seat your child needs depends on several factors, including your child's size and your type of vehicle. Here are some basic guidelines for the different types of seats on the market.

Rear-Facing Car Seats

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Infants who weigh 20 pounds before age 1 should ride in a restraint approved for higher rear-facing weights. For the best possible protection, place your infant in the back seat, rear-facing, until your infant reaches the height and weight limit of the particular seat.

Forward-Facing Car Seats

When children outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should ride in a forward-facing child safety seat in the back seat. They should continue to do so until they reach the upper weight or height limit of the particular seat — usually about age 4 and 40 pounds.

Booster Seats

A belt-positioning booster seat in the back seat is a proper restraint for children weighing 40 to 80 pounds. Until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, the booster seat offers a better fit for the adult lap and shoulder belt.

Seat Belts

When children outgrow their booster seats — usually at age 8 or when they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall — they can use the adult seat belt in the back seat. The child must be tall enough to sit without slouching, with knees bent at the edge of the seat, and feet on the floor.

The lap belt must fit low and tight across the upper thighs. The shoulder belt should rest over the shoulder and across the chest. Never put the shoulder belt under the child's arm or behind his or her back.