Infant car seat - photo:

Child Restraint Basics – The Best Way to Protect Children

What is the number one killer of children 1 to 12 years old in the United States? The correct answer is: car crashes.

The best way to protect children is to put them in the right seat, at the right time, and use it the right way.

What is the Right Car Seat?

The right car seat is one that fits your child and your vehicle, and is one you will use correctly every time you travel.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child restraint laws. The laws require children to travel in approved child restraint devices. The specifics vary by state, but the general child restraint basics and the common steps are:

  • Rear-facing infants seats

  • Forward-facing child safety seats.

  • Booster seats.

  • Seat belts.

Infants should use rear-facing infant seats. Toddlers should use forward-facing child safety seats. Older children should use booster seats until they properly fit a seat belt.

Infant Seats

All states require child safety seats for infants.

Always use rear-facing infant seats for infants. These types of seats are designed to be portable and are generally lighter in weight and easier to carry. They should be used according the car seat manufacturer’s directions and until the child reaches the top height or weight limit allowed for the seat.

Laws often require children less than 1 year and under 20 pounds to be in a rear-facing child seat.

Forward-facing Car Seats

Once a child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, it is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness. Children in this group are typically four to seven years old.

Booster Seats

When outgrowing the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it is time to travel in a booster seat. Booster seats are recommended for children until they are big enough to properly use a seat belt.

48 states and the District of Columbia require booster seats or other appropriate devices for children who have outgrown their child safety seats but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely. The only states lacking booster seat laws at this time are Florida and South Dakota.

Children Should Ride in the Back Seat

Many state laws require all children to ride in the back seat whenever possible. This is also a typical question on your written knowledge test.

Generally, you should keep a child in the back seat at least through age 12.