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child passenger safety

Written exclusively for bümo by Sarah Haverstick,
Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor and CYBEX Safety Advocate

"Ultimately, the best car seat is the one that fits your child,
fits your vehicle, fits your budget and you use correctly every time."

Car Safety for Babies

Infants must face the rear of the vehicle, but you have a few options when preparing for your infant’s first car ride. Infant (rear-facing only) car seats are a great option to use from birth.  Most start around 4 lbs and will max around 35 lbs. Many infants will outgrow the allowable height for the infant car seat before they max out the weight rating – so it is important to know the height limit as your child grows. The infant car seat includes a carry handle to make it easy to move from vehicle to stroller. Most infant car seats include a separate base that is installed in the vehicle – allowing you to easily remove the car seat carrier. Many infant car seats connect to different strollers or travel systems – making regular travel outside the vehicle with an infant quick and easy. Infant carriers can also generally be installed without the base, making ride share and other travel easier.

While infant seats are versatile, they aren’t the only option for infants. Some families choose to start with a convertible or all-in-one car seat. These car seats often start at 4 or 5 lbs, so they can be used for many infants from birth. These products have multiple modes of use. A convertible seat can be used in rear facing and then in forward facing mode after your child has grown beyond the size limits for rear-facing use of the seat. An all-in-one car seat can be used, rear facing, forward facing and in booster mode. Most of these car seats can be used until 40 or even 50 lbs in rear facing mode, and they have much longer height allowances than infant car seats. So, a convertible or all-in-one can be a great, long-lasting option for your new baby.

Car Safety for Toddlers

Regardless of how you choose to start your car seat journey, you will eventually need to transition your child to a convertible or all-in-one car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain rear facing as long as possible – until they have outgrown the height or weight limit of their rear facing convertible or all-in-one car seat. Rear facing provides support for your young child’s body in a crash, protecting their still developing head, neck and spine.

Convertible and all-in-one car seats remain installed in the vehicle. They are generally larger, heavier and have higher weight and height ratings than infant car seats, which make them a versatile, long-lasting option for families. Once your child has outgrown the car seat in rear facing mode it can be turned and adjusted for forward facing usage.

Once your child is forward facing you can also consider a combination or harnessed booster car seat. This product is forward facing only and can be used with a harness or as a booster seat. Your child should remain harnessed until they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing car seat. One important reminder: when using a seat in forward-facing mode, the tether should always be used for your car seat installation.

Car Safety for Older Kids

Not to be forgotten, older children have unique needs in the car, too. Once your child has outgrown the harness of their forward facing car seat, the next step is a booster seat. Boosters generally raise the child up so that the vehicle seat belt can fit them appropriately. The seat belts in your vehicle are designed for adults, not children. So this additional boost is necessary to place the lap and shoulder portions of the belt on the strongest parts of the child’s body. That means the lap belt should fit low on the upper thighs/hips and the shoulder belt should fit midway across the child’s shoulder.

Your child needs to meet the minimum age, weight and height requirement for their booster seat. Yes, age! Many booster seats provide a minimum age requirement for their product. Why? Booster seats require a level of maturity that isn’t needed for a harnessed car seat. Children in a booster seat need to understand the importance of staying in the lap-and-shoulder belt of the vehicle. 

Very importantly, your child should remain in the booster until they fit the adult seat belt without it. That means, they should be able to sit on the vehicle seat with their back and bottom flush with the seat, their knees bent over the edge of the seat, their feet flat on the floor and the vehicle belt in the proper position. For many kids, this will be around 4’ 9” tall – or 10 – 12 years old!

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