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Child Safety Seats

Child Safety Seats

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
Keeping infants and children protected while riding in a vehicle has never been easier. Child safety seats are inexpensive, convenient, and getting better every year. Seat manufacturers must follow strict government safety guidelines when designing and manufacturing the seats, and automobile manufacturers are required to install the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system in the rear seats on all new vehicles, simplifying the child safety seat installation process.

Child safety seats are designed to be used in the rear seat of vehicles. They should never be installed in the front seat (see New Front Air Bag Designs Increase Safety). There are three basic configurations of child safety seats, each designed for a different stage in the child's life, from newborn to nearly 10 years old:
  • Infant-Only Seats (From newborn to one year)
    This is the first safety seat you will purchase for an infant, suitable for the ride home from the hospital. These seats all face rearward and most are equipped with a 5-point harness (one over each shoulder, a harness over the hips, and one between the legs). Infant-only seats are often smaller than a convertible seat and many come with a detachable base, which can be left installed in the vehicle. Most infant-only seats can be carried outside the vehicle by their built-in handle. When returned to the vehicle, the seat snaps back into the base, making removal and installation very convenient. The weight capacity of most infant-only seats is about 25 pounds.

  • Convertible Seat/Rear-Facing or Forward-Facing (Rear-facing from newborn up to approximately 30 pounds; front-facing for children approximately 20 to 40 pounds)
    The convertible seat can be used as a rear-facing infant seat for a newborn or as a forward-facing seat as the child grows. Convertible seats have higher rear-facing weight limits than infant-only seats, making them ideal for larger babies. Convertible seats will have either a 5-point harness, an overhead shield, or a molded harness to hold the belts in place (referred to as a T-shield). The seat should have several different harness slots, giving your baby room to grow. Most convertible seats will come with an assortment of pads and cushions, allowing you to custom fit the seat to the size of the child. When the child is ready to ride forward-facing, the restraint straps will have to be moved (check the manufacturer's instructions) and the seat belts moved into the forward-facing belt path.

  • Booster Seat (Front-facing for children approximately 40 to 100 pounds)
    As the child outgrows the forward-facing seat (when they reach the seat's weight limit or their shoulders are above the highest harness slots), they need to be moved to a booster seat. Booster seats do not come with harness straps; instead, they use the lap and shoulder belts installed in the vehicle. For the booster seat to work properly, the child must fit the lap and shoulder belts; seat belts should be worn low over the hips with the shoulder strap placed across the collarbone.
Graduating from safety seat to seat belts
A child should remain in a booster seat until they are large and heavy enough to properly wear three-point seat belts. Comprised of a lap belt and a shoulder harness, standard three-point restraints are designed for passengers at least 4'9" tall and weighing at least 80 pounds. Seat belts should be worn low over the hips with the shoulder strap placed across the collarbone.

For more information on child seats, installations, and recalls, visit these informative sites:
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