It seems like car seat regulations and guidelines change with each kid I have. I know the basics of car seat safety, and I think I am following the correct guidelines. But honestly, I know there are some things I have slacked on.
So I asked my friend Alyssa Cooperider for help — she’s a child life specialist at a Boston-area hospital and a child passenger safety technician.
Here are her top five car seat safety guidelines that are commonly overlooked or simply not followed.
1. Rear-facing is the way to go.
Children should remain rear-facing in their car seat AS LONG AS POSSIBLE — at least until age 2 and ideally up until age 4.
2. Use the top tether.
You must use a top tether in a front-facing car seat. The top tether keeps the top of the child’s car seat back an additional 4-6 inches in a crash and limits the forward motion in a crash, which means the child is less likely to suffer head and neck injuries.
3. Use the LATCH or the seat belt.
NEVER use the LATCH system and seat belt at the same time to install car seats. It is like wearing contacts and glasses at the same time. It does not amount to greater safety. You choose one or the other. Most LATCH systems actually have a weight limit, so it is best to check your car seat manual and switch over to a seat belt install when the weight limit has been reached.
4. Car seats have expiration dates!
Most of them expire about six years after the manufacture date, but always check the date printed on your seat. If you can’t find a date on your seat, check the owner’s manual. So yes, it is time to chuck the car seat that is 10 years old!
5. The position of the shoulder straps is crucial.
For rear-facing seats, the shoulder straps must be threaded through the slots that are at or below your baby’s shoulders. For forward-facing seats, the shoulder straps should be at or above your child’s shoulders. The chest clip should always be at armpit level.
For more detailed information about car seat safety, visit the CDC’s child passenger safety page.