We celebrate many milestones in our children’s lives—their first words, first steps, first day of school. It’s natural to want to encourage their growth and independence as they reach these different development stages. But when it comes to child safety seats, parents need to take a different approach.
Child safety seats, which include rear-facing seats, front-facing seats and booster seats, are designed to protect children as they grow. Recent concern over when it’s safe to use a booster seat is a good reminder to review all the guidelines for child passenger seat safety.
Rear-facing safety seats
Children should be in a rear-facing seat until they are at least two years old and until they reach the maximum height and weight requirement listed by the seat’s manufacturer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends keeping children rear-facing as long as possible—and when height and weight requirements allow, only then should a child face forward in the seat.
Children should remain in forward-facing safety seats until they reach the maximum height and weight requirements listed by the seat’s manufacturer. Depending on the style of the seat, requirements can range from 40 to 90 pounds—there should be no reason to move your child to a booster unless they have met the maximum height and weight for their front-facing child safety seat.
Child safety seats (both rear- and front-facing) are designed with five-point harnesses—much like those worn by NASCAR drivers—to keep a child positioned as safe as possible in a crash.
A booster seat is a positioning device that does not have a belted restraint. It is designed to help children who have outgrown the height and weight requirements of their forward-facing seat, to be in the correct position to use the vehicle’s seatbelt. Booster seats must be used with the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt.
When a child has reached the maximum weight and height for their harnessed seat, a booster seat is the next measure for keeping them safe. The AAP and NHSTA recommend that booster seats be used only for children 55 pounds or more. Due to the recent changes in the guidelines, whether or not your booster seat manual states it can be used for a child 30 pounds and up, new safety information confirms that children under 55 pounds should not be in a booster.
Convertible and all-in-one seats
Some manufacturers have developed car safety seats that can be converted to cover the span of a child’s growth.
A convertible seat can change from rear-facing to front-facing, while an all-in-one is designed to also include a booster. Because of the ability to adjust these seats, they can keep a child in a front-facing, harnessed seat, longer. Parents should still continue to follow the weight and height requirements before adjusting the seat to the next stage.
Each step away from a rear-facing seat with the harness reduces the protection for a child. Parents and children should be in no rush to move to the next level. Save the graduations for kindergarten and high school, and avoid encouraging the idea that children “graduate” to the next level of their safety seat.