CHILD DEVELOPMENT INFORMATION & TIP SHEET: INSTALLING AND USING A CAR SEAT

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1 CHILD DEVELOPMENT INFORMATION & TIP SHEET: INSTALLING AND USING A CAR SEAT Disclaimer: The following information was compiled for First 5 LA Parent Helpline from reliable sources. It is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. The information does not cover everything related to the topic and may not apply to all individuals. GENERAL INFORMATION Each year thousands of young children are killed or injured in car crashes. You can help protect your child by correctly installing and using a car safety seat according to specific guidelines. TYPES OF CAR SAFETY SEATS & GUIDELINES Children s car seats come in three main types: Infant seats are rear-facing seats (turned so the child faces the rear of the vehicle) and hold the child inside a basket-like carrier, which is then snapped into a base which is secured to the car. Infant seats are designed to be used with infants up to 20 lbs, so on average most parents get about 6 months of use from an infant seat. Convertible car seats can be used for both infants and older children. Infants ride rearfacing; when a child weighs over 20 lbs the seat can be changed to forward-facing (and used until the child weighs up to 40 lbs, on average). Unlike infant seats, however, they do not have snap-in bases. Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing car safety seats. These seats boost children up to provide a higher sitting height, which allows the adult lap and shoulder belt to fit properly. Some booster seats are now made for use with younger children weighing less than 40 lbs as well; these seats are called combination seats. This table from the American Academy of Pediatrics describes general guidelines for using car safety seats. AGE TYPE OF SEAT GENERAL GUILDELINE Infants (0-1 year) Toddlers & preschoolers (1 5 years) School-aged children (5+ years) Older children (80 lbs +) infant only or rearfacing convertible forward-facing convertible or combination seats booster seat belts All infants should always ride rear-facing until they are 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 lbs.* Children at least 1 year of age and 20 lbs can ride forward-facing. However, it is best to ride rear-facing as long as possible. Children should stay in a booster seat until the adult seat belts fit correctly (usually when a child reaches about 4' 9" in height and is between 8-12 years old). Children who have outgrown their booster seats should ride in a lap and shoulder belt; they should ride in the back seat until 13 years of age. *Note: Though most parents move their children from a rear-facing to a forward-facing position when they reach 1 year and 20 pounds, this is the minimum age and weight requirement for Car Seat Information Sheet, p. 1 of 5

2 facing forward. Experts say that the longer children are kept in a rear-facing position, the safer they will be. SOME IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT CAR SEATS You'll need to have a car seat installed in your car to bring your baby home from the hospital. It s one more thing to think about at a busy time, but most hospitals and birthing centers won't let you leave with your newborn if you don't have your car seat installed. In addition, California law requires all children five years and younger or weighing less than 60 lbs. to be in a child restraint system when riding in a car. No one car seat is the best or safest to use. The best seat is the one that fits your child s age and size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and can be used properly every time you drive. Regarding price, all child safety seats are regulated by the federal government to meet minimum safety standards, so that means all seats provide the same basic safety features. More expensive seats come with extra perks like shock-absorbing foam, more padding, and comforts for the child such as reclining seats and pillows. Experts recommend to get the best seat you can afford, but then most importantly, use it with a tether strap (see below), and get your seat checked to make sure you have the best installation and fit (see below). Avoid used car seats if: It is older than the manufacturer recommends for using the seat. Six years is the maximum age recommended for car seats. Has any visible cracks on it. Does not have a label with the date of manufacture and model number. Without these, you cannot check to see if the seat has been recalled. Does not come with instructions. Is missing parts. Used car safety seats often come without important parts. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you can get the right parts. Do not use seats that have been in a crash. GETTING A FREE OR LOW-COST CAR SAFETY SEAT Occasionally, a family may be able to get assistance in purchasing a low-cost car seat or receiving one for free. Some health insurance companies, and some auto insurance companies, will provide free or discounted infant car seats to parents who complete a parenting class. Check with your insurance providers. The hospital where your baby is born may be able to assist you, as well. There are a few community organizations that assist families with free or low cost child passenger safety seats, and you can ask 211 for more information. These organizations typically require the parent to attend an educational class prior to receiving the safety seat. INSTALLATION TIPS Installing a car seat correctly can be challenging. One study suggests that as many as 72% of parents with car seats are not using them properly. One basic tip if you become confused: Use the method of installation that most tightly secures the seat to the vehicle. A seat that is properly installed should not move more than an inch forward or sideways. Before attempting to install any car seat, read both the car seat instructions and the child restraint section in the vehicle owner s manual. These guides will tell you basic information that you need to know in order to properly install a car seat. If you can't find the instructions for your new car seat, try looking on the back of the seat, the bottom or under the cover for the booklet. You can order a new instruction manual for free from the car seat manufacturer. Car Seat Information Sheet, p. 2 of 5

3 If you can't find your vehicle instruction manual, order a new one from the dealer parts department. If possible, the middle of the back seat is usually the best place for a car seat, but sometimes the fit is better on either side. NEVER place a rear-facing seat in the front seat if there is a passenger-side air bag. The website The Car Seat Lady (www.thecarseatlady.com, in English only) has a lot of easy to understand instructions and pictures, including how-to videos of installation for a few common brands of car seats. Once the seat is installed properly, tighten everything. Use your knee and body weight to push the seat down into the vehicle seat and then tighten all straps and buckles again. Once the seat is in as tight as possible it should move less than one inch from side to side. WHAT IS 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 two anchor bars located in the lower seat back. Car safety seats that come with LATCH have special attachments that fasten to these anchors and are meant to be placed in the rear right or left seats (not the center seats). Nearly all passenger vehicles and all car safety seats made on or after September 1, 2002, come with LATCH. WHAT ARE TETHERS? In 1999, the federal government mandated that all convertible child safety seats be sold with a tether strap to prevent the car seat from moving forward in a crash. A tether strap attaches from the top of the car seat to an anchor bolt that is permanently installed somewhere in the vehicle. (Look for anchor bolts on the ceiling, floor, or behind the regular seats in your car.) If your vehicle doesn't have tether anchors, read the vehicle's manual to see if it can be retrofitted. Many dealers will install a tether anchor for free. You can also install a tether anchor by yourself. Be sure to ask your car dealer for the manufacturer s anchor bolt installation kit. NOTE: Most car seats can only use tether straps when they are FORWARD-facing. THE HARNESS: SECURING YOUR CHILD IN THE SEAT Every child safety seat comes with a harness that is used to secure your baby into the seat. The most important safety tip is to fully buckle the harness every time you put your child in the seat. Don t make the mistake of being in hurry and forgetting to (or not wanting to) attach the restraints. Be sure to read the manufacturer s directions about the proper way to secure your child with the harness. In most cases, the top of the harness straps should be at or above the child s shoulders, the harness chest clip should be at child s armpit level, and you should not be able to stack more than two fingers between your child s chest and the strap (in other words, it should fit snugly). GETTING HELP WITH INSTALLATION If you have questions, need help installing your car safety seat, or just want to check to make sure your seat is installed correctly, a certified CPS (Child Passenger Safety) Technician can help you. California Highway Patrol (CHP) offices have certified child seat technicians and you can make an appointment or stop by to find out when and where the next Car Seat Safety Day will be held. Car Seat Information Sheet, p. 3 of 5

4 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 ( ). You can also get this information by calling the toll-free NHTSA Auto Safety Hotline at 888-DASH-2-DOT ( ). A list of certified CPS Technicians is available by ZIP code on the NHTSA Website at CAR SEAT RECALLS Unfortunately, the recall of consumer goods due to safety concerns is a regular event. Parents and caregivers can keep up with what products are safe and what has been recalled: Keep track of the baby items you purchase by keeping all your receipts and product manuals in a file or shoebox. Keep track of the manufacturer, model, serial #, date manufactured, the company contact information, where purchased, and price paid. This way the information is in one place when a recall is announced. Fill out and mail in the registration card that comes with most purchases. It provides the manufacturer with your name and address so that they can get in touch with you if there is a recall. Stay informed. The local news often carries information about recalls. There are also web sites that list recalls. See and You can also call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at for a free list of recalled car seats. FOR MORE INFORMATION American Academy of Pediatrics: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Government Ratings of Child Safety Seat Features: For information on the which car seats fit in which vehicles, see their Compatibility Database: Car Seat Recalls: Auto Safety Hotline 888-DASH-2-DOT ( ) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/recalls/childseat.cfm. SOURCES: The following reliable sources were used in the creation of this tip sheet. Use of these resources by 211 LA County and by First 5 LA does not constitute a recommendation. American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families Retrieved April 21, 2008, from American Academy of Pediatrics web site: Baby Center editorial staff (February 2008). Car seat safety: The biggest mistakes parents make, and how to avoid them. Retrieved April 28, 2008 from Baby Center web site: Car Seat Data (2008). Choosing the Best Car Seat. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from Car Seat Data web site: Car-Safety.org (2008). Car Seat Basics: Selection and Use. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from Car-Safety web site: Car Seat Site (n.d.) Installing Your Car Seat. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from Care Seat Site: Cawley, Lori (April, 2008) Backseat driving: Improve children s car seat safety with proper installation, The Costco Connection, p.27. Car Seat Information Sheet, p. 4 of 5

5 Consumer Reports (n.d.) Buying advice: Child car & booster seats. Retrieved April 28, 2008, from Consumer Reports web site: Fields, Denise and Alan (2004). Baby Bargains. Publisher s Group West, Berkeley, Ca. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2008). Child Passenger Safety: Ease of Use Ratings. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from NHTSA web site: staticfiles/dot/nhtsa/traffic%20injury%20control/articles/associated%20files/latcheasy.pdf [FOR CRA USE] SEARCH TERMS Child Passenger Safety Education (JR ) Child Passenger Safety Seats (JR ) Child Passenger Safety Seat Inspections (JR ) Car Seat Information Sheet, p. 5 of 5

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