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What parents need to know about car seat safety

As a parent, your child's safety is always your number one priority. Keeping your child safe in the car means using always using the correct car seat.

But, it can be hard to know what car seat is right for your child, and when to replace it as the child develops. You may have heard of other parents making mistakes, and don't want to repeat them. Or, you may be receiving well-meaning (but possibly incorrect) advice from friends or family about how to use car seats correctly.

It's important to make sure you educate yourself about car seat safety. Below is an overview of what you need to know. For more detailed information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a helpful guide.

What type of car seat is right for your child?

The best car seat to choose depends on your child's age and size.

  • Infants and toddlers: use a rear-facing car seat until the child is at least two years old
  • Toddlers and preschoolers: use a forward-facing car seat with a harness up until the child reaches the height and weight capacity set by the manufacturer
  • School-aged children: use a booster seat until the child is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall
  • Older children: use a traditional seat belt. Children age 13 or younger should always sit in the back seat

Avoid these common mistakes

A lot of parents inadvertently put their children at risk by using car seats incorrectly. Keep the following tips in mind.

  • Be careful using a used car seat. Research the seat's history before purchasing it. If it's been recalled or involved in a vehicle accident, do not use it. Also, be aware that car seats expire after six years, and should not be used any longer.
  • Many parents place the car seat in the wrong area of the back seat. The correct placement is away from active air bags in the back seat. Parents who have questions about this can visit their local fire station for help with installation.
  • The car seat should not be used as an alternative for the baby's crib. It is designed only for safe travel. According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2009, a car seat used as a crib could cause compression in a newborn's chest.

A properly fitted and installed car seat is your child's best chance for protection in the event of a car accident.

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