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Child Car Seat Requirements: Protect the Health and Safety of Your Children

Updated on March 7, 2015

Keep Your Children Safe with a Car Seat

Soon after a baby is born, he or she will likely be introduced to motor vehicle travel.

Simply transporting an infant home from the hospital will require use of a car seat. Errands, like trips to the grocery store, or travel to visit friends and relatives, will require that you have and use the right car seat for your infant or child.

But what does that entail?

Child car seat requirements have changed over time - even since my oldest was born 14 years ago. Standards are stricter and the design and proper installation of car seats better protect our kids as a result. Never, ever use a "second-hand" car seat for your child!

Infant and child car seats can be expensive, but well worth the peace of mind they can bring parents and guardians. Moreover, like adult drivers who fail to buckle their seat belt, you can be cited for not properly securing your child in a car seat.

You can keep your children safe with a car seat, provided you learn the basics of what types of seats are required for the age and/or size of your child, how to install the car seats, and consistently and properly position your child in the car seat, buckling them in whenever you get on the road.

A baby is precious cargo and should be securely buckled into a car seat
A baby is precious cargo and should be securely buckled into a car seat | Source

Proper Use of Infant Car Seats

Specific requirements vary from state to state in the U.S., but in general, rear-facing infant car seats should be used for any baby that is less than 12 months old and/or less than 22 pounds, according to the American Acadamy of Pediatrics. The longer a child rides rear facing, the better. In fact, in Scandinavia, children ride facing backward until age 4!

The primary reason to keep children facing backward is for better protection of their head and neck in the case of a sudden stop or throwing the brakes on. It is also a safer riding position in the case of dangerous frontal collisions.

Infant carrier baby seats latch into a base that remains in your vehicle. The base is secured by a standard seat belt and sometimes requires an ISOFix fitting. When you reach your destination, you simply unlock the carrier from the base to transport your baby. One of the most convenient baby gear contraptions is a stroller base onto which you can lock the infant carrier, which allows you to avoid having to move the child into a separate stroller.

Infant car seats keep babies lying on their backs at an approximately 30% angle (not supine, but tilted up slightly, which is helpful if your baby spits up). A five-point safety harness goes over the baby's head and latches between their legs to secure them into the infant carrier.

Baby car seats should always be installed in the back seat of a vehicle. The fact that the seat is rear facing does not adequately protect a baby if installed in the front seat, particularly if there is a passenger side airbag that is not disabled.

Installation directions may vary, depending on manufacturer. Be sure to follow the printed instructions with your new car seat. It is highly recommended that you install your infant car seat before your baby is born, as well. Local fire departments often have workshops to assist new parents with proper car seat installation.

How to Install an Infant Car Seat

Rear-facing car seats for infants
Rear-facing car seats for infants

Proper Usage of Child Car Seats

Depending on the manufacturer, a child car seat is usually designed for children from 20-50 pounds that are between 1-6 years old. Some seats can be installed rear facing, although many parents prefer to turn their child around to face front as soon as safely possible.

As with infant car seats, these child restraint systems are a semi-permanent installation in the back seat of your car. You will have to help your child climb in and latch them into place. Never allow your child to ride in the front seat!

Some designs use a five-point harness to hold a toddler in place, while the base of the seat itself is fastened into the car using an adult seat belt. Other designs for older children (at least 4 years old) position the adult seat belt across the child to restrain them in place, without a harness.

If you are looking for additional space in the back seat (by the time you have a child in an "older" car seat, you may have another infant), some parents prefer to switch to a simple booster seat, rather than the more permanent child car seat. A booster seat does just what it says - boosts the child up several inches so that the adult seat belt is properly positioned across their shoulder and waist. The seat itself is not fastened into the car, which makes it easier to move and remove as needed.

As discussed below, booster seats are not recommended for children younger than 4 or less than 40 pounds. Forward facing car seats with five point harnesses are often the choice of parents until their child reaches kindergarten.

How to Install a Child Car Seat (Forward Facing)

When Should Child Booster Seats be Used?

As your child gets older, taller and heavier, you may wish to transition from a forward facing car seat to a booster seat. These help position an adult seat belt properly across a smaller body. Child booster seats should be used for kids no younger than 4, and up to age 10 and/or 90 pounds. Some smaller children may continue to use booster seats until 11 or 12.

Booster seats are used in the back seat of a vehicle only. No child should ride in the front seat until they are at least the size of a small adult (see additional directions below) and over 12 years old. Even if they are big enough to ride up front, the safest place for any child or teen is in the back seat.

Safe and sound in an infant car seat
Safe and sound in an infant car seat | Source

How Old Must a Child Be to Ride Without a Car Seat?

The legal requirements for allowing a child to ride in a vehicle without a car seat varies from state to state. However, general guidelines are based on height (at least 4 feet, 6 inches) and weight (at least 80 pounds). Age varies, but kids should be at least 10 years old, in addition to meeting height and weight guidelines.

When it comes to riding in the front seat, when your child has outgrown a booster seat, most states allow you to use your discretion. Personally, I have a 14 year old who is taller than me who has been safely riding in the front seat for a couple of years. His 12 year old brother now matches me in height (5'4") but is less than 100 pounds. For that reason, we encourage him to continue riding in the back seat. This is because if the passenger side airbag was to deploy, his small frame could be injured.

Some auto manufacturers have switches that allow you to turn off the front airbag. Nonetheless, in a collision, any child or teen will be safer in the back seat of the vehicle.

Proper Use of Child Booster Seats

Five Tips to Remember About Child Car Seats

  1. Never purchase or use a car seat that is more than 6 years old, which is the safety limit set for manufacturers
  2. It is not advised to purchase a second-hand car seat - new is best and safest
  3. If you are in a car accident with your child restrained in a car seat, the seat should be replaced because they are only warranted for a single crash event
  4. Check to make sure the seat manufacturer has not issued any recalls before using
  5. If you are in doubt, opt for more safety features, rather than less. For example, rear-facing or front? Go with rear-facing. Five-point harness or shoulder strap? Go with the harness.

Other Ways to Protect the Health and Safety of Your Children When Driving

Placing your child in a proper car seat or booster is just the first step toward keeping them safe. Anyone who is driving with kids in the car must also follow the rules of the road in minimize the risk of accidents:

  • Do not allow children to ride in the front seat, even if in a car seat
  • Follow posted speed limits
  • Leave adequate stopping distances between yourself and the vehicle in front of you
  • Do not use cell phones without a hands-free device (probably best not to take or make any calls at all)
  • Do not text and drive
  • Do not get behind the wheel if you have had any alcoholic beverages
  • Do not drive after taking over-the-counter or prescription medication that results in drowsiness or confusion
  • Do not drive if you are too stressed, tired or upset
  • Pull over for any emergency vehicles
  • Slow down/stop at any railroad crossings

Protect the health and safety of your child with proper car seats or boosters
Protect the health and safety of your child with proper car seats or boosters | Source


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    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Sarah's, good! Car seats are required to be high quality and can be a crucial factor in keeping your baby or child safe in a vehicle. People need to know the requirements and position them correctly in the car. I hope you love the convertible car seat! Best, Steph

    • profile image

      sarahs notes 

      7 years ago

      Great information, thanks for sharing. We just purchased a convertible car seat after much consideration and debate. I'm happy to see that we were thinking about all the right things.

    • sunkentreasure profile image


      7 years ago from RUIMSIG, SOUTH AFRICA


      Bless your children with the power of prayer

      Celebrate their uniqueness

      Feed them encouragement and inspiration

      and let them feel they are greatly loved.

      Teach your children the beauty of kindness

      Enrich them with the wonders of nature

      Fill their hearts with joyful melody

      and always be their friend.

      Clothe your children in goodness

      Make their world full of nice surprises

      Help them to follow their dreams

      and thank God they came into your life.

      © Bernard Levine

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you hazelwood,

      In my experience, parents are pretty good about using car seats properly for their infants or even toddlers. Problems begin to arise when children reach age 4 or 5 and parents may be more lenient/tired of dealing with car seats by then. Appreciate the comment - best to you, Steph

    • hazelwood4 profile image


      8 years ago from Owensboro, Kentucky

      This is a very well written article on car seat safety. Every parent should take the time to read this article!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi John, you are right! I know its tough but she will be safest in a booster seat for another few years. Thanks for the comment. Cheers, Steph

    • johnr54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Very thorough job! My 8-year old wants out of her booster seat so bad, but she is petite and needs the additional safety.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks everybody! As a mom, I have to admit that there are times when you are looking for the easiest way to just get something done (whether going to the grocery store, school, or grandma's house). But just 5 extra minutes can mean the difference between a healthy, safe child and one with serious injuries because they were not properly buckled into a car seat. I do hope that others find it a helpful guide too. Best, Steph

    • tlpoague profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Very informative. My children were like little ninjas that would escape out of their car seats no matter what I did. My son learned his lesson one day when he was trying to climb out, while I stepped on the brakes to keep from hitting a car. It scared him enough that he stopped and made sure his sister did too. Great hub! Thanks!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      8 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Fabulous info, Steph and very complete and compelling info So many people are lax about car seats for kids in spite of the statistics. Great job-- voted up and awesome

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 

      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      Very helpful! I've been wondering what age it is recommended for booster seats and haven't looked it up yet. Very comprehensive information.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      This is SO USEFUL! There are so many differing bits of advice on this subject, and there are so many different car seats and laws that I would be absolutely overwhelmed as a new mother looking to get the right thing. Thanks for outlining everything so neatly here!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Gypsy Rose,

      It is easy for me to write about child health and safety with four children of my own. However, the car seat issue is one that people tend to "slide" on a bit, especially after children are past the toddler stage. I hope the article is helpful for parents and guardians! Best, Steph

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      8 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      Voted up! I read this article not because I have anything to do with children but because I wanted to see how the article was written. You certainly did your homework and this was very informative. Passing it on.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Good luck with your adoption, Marie! You are wise to be thinking about child car seats and safety. Thank you for your comment and all the best to you, Steph

    • Marie Gail profile image

      Marie Gail Stratford 

      8 years ago from Kansas City, MO

      Great Hub! We are hoping to adopt soon, and I have been concerned about car seats and car seat safety. I'll be sharing and re-reading this Hub.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you instantlyfamily,

      There are a lot of questions about when a child should be riding in what type of car seat. I hope that this hub is helpful so that parents and others can try to avoid serious harm to kids that are not securely or safely buckled in. Best, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Angela - my 9 year old twins are just like your daughter! They complain about it all the time. In fact my daughter is now asking to ride in the front seat! She then asks if she can when she is 10. Ugh! Good luck keeping your kids in car seats as long as required.

      And that is funny about you hearing me on the radio! Glad you joined HP. I'm off to go check out your hubs. Have a great day, Steph

    • instantlyfamily profile image


      8 years ago

      Your hub is very well written and informative. I hope parents take the time to read this,it could very well save the life of their child. Well done!

    • angela p profile image

      angela p 

      8 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

      Very informative article. I have 4 kids and feel like we will have car seats in our vehicles forever! LOL. My 9 year old fusses every time I make her sit in a booster seat because she says her friends do not have to. I explain to her that she is not tall enough or doesn't weigh enough to go without one. The seat belt does not lay across her chest properly without the booster seat. She gets embarrassed. Oh well.. she is safe. Thanks for sharing such useful information. BTW - I joined hubpages because of a radio show I heard with you being interviewed about hubpages. So my addiction to hubpages is all your fault..ha..


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