Having your child restrained properly in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt is very important. Not only does it give your child a better chance of withstanding an accident but it is also the law. Laws vary from state to state as far as age, weight, height and what type of seat the child should be restrained in. So you should check with the state you live in to find out what the laws are for that particular state.
However the best rule of thumb is to follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) guidelines. The NHTSA recommends that children stay in appropriate car seats through 8 years old, 80 pounds, or up to 4'9" in height.
Birth to Age One
For birth through one year of age, NHTSA recommends that infants should be an infant-only or rear-facing convertible seat and should ride rear facing up to one year of age or at least 20 pounds. Rear-facing seats should be at a 30 to 45 degree angle.
It may be hard for some parents to drive with their infant facing in the opposite direction. It almost seems unnatural not to be able to see your baby. But just as it is important to support a newborn's head as you cradle them in your arms, it is also important that their head and neck be protected in a vehicle. Since baby's neck muscles are not fully developed all those bumps in the road, twist and turns and sometimes-sudden stops can really impact a tiny baby. The rear-facing seat helps minimize these motions for the baby. You can purchase some mirrors to use so that you can keep an eye on your baby while they are in the rear-facing car seat.
One to Four Years
Children 1 to 4 years old and weigh 20 to 40 pounds should be in a convertible or forward facing car seat.
Four to Eight Years
Some states only require children to be restrained in car seats until the age of four. However, seat belts usually don't fit most four-year-olds properly. The NHTSA recommends that children who are 4 to 8 years old and more than 40 pounds, should be in a belt positioning booster seat either backless or high back.
Eight Years and Up
All children under the age of 12 should ride in the backseat. Never seat an infant or child in a position where an airbag can be deployed. When used with seat belts, air bags work very well to protect teenagers and adults. However, air bags can be very dangerous to children, particularly those riding in rear-facing car safety seats and to child passengers who are not properly positioned. Even in a relatively low-speed crash, the air bag can inflate, strike the car safety seat, and cause serious brain and neck injury and death.
Remember to Follow Manufacturer's Instructions
Always read and follow manufacturer's instructions. If you do not have the manufacturer's instructions for your car safety seat, write or call the company's customer service department. They will ask you for the model number, name of seat, and date of manufacture. The manufacturer's address and phone number are on the label on the seat. Also be sure to follow the instructions in your vehicle owner's manual about using car safety seats.
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