While it’s common knowledge that newborn infants aren’t allowed to go home from the hospital without a car seat, I’m amazed at the number of parents that fail car seat inspections in our area either because the child is not buckled properly in the seat or the seat is not fastened well in the car.

This week, let me try to drive home some points about car seat safety.

There are three basic types of car seats. 

1.     An infant seat is used for babies under 20 pounds AND less than one year of age in a rear-facing position in the back seat.  If your baby reaches 20 pounds before a year of age, they should stay in the infant seat in that position until the first birthday.  Many rear-facing seats now have weight limits of 30 to 35 pounds and height limits of 32-36 inches and can be used in that position even up to two years of age.

2.     A toddler seat is front-facing and should only be used when your child is both more than 20 pounds AND one year of age. Keep using these until they are at least 40 pounds.

3.     Booster seats are for children who weigh more than 40 pounds and up until they are 8 years of age and at least 4’ 9 inches.  Again if they are over eight and still not 4’9” they need to stay in the booster seat. These seats allow the lap and shoulder belts to be used but prevent the shoulder strap from fitting across the face or neck and allow the lap belt to cross the hips and not the belly.

What if your child doesn’t want to go into a booster seat?  Well, remember it’s the law, but it also helps not to call it a “booster” or “baby” seat.  Instead explain that with a booster seat they will feel more comfortable because the belts won’t ride across their stomach, face or neck and that a booster seat makes it much easier to see.

When your child is tall enough such that the regular lap belt rests low on top of their thighs and the shoulder belt rests comfortably across the middle of their chest, they can come out of a booster seat. Even if they graduate to a regular seatbelt, children under 12 should still ride in the back since they are not sized properly to withstand the pressure of an airbag opening, and could suffer head and neck injuries. Finally, don’t forget to buckle up yourselves to set a good example.

Hopefully, tips like these will sit well with you and your child when it comes to insuring their safety on the road.

Learn more about Child Car Seat Safety at the UVM Medical Center. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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