Ann Weinstein is a Child Passenger Safety Specialist at the Office of Community Health Improvement.

What is a car seat inspection, and why do I need one?

8 out of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly.  Many of these mistakes can be fatal to a child in the event of a crash.  A visit to a fitting station (permanent location) or inspection (mobile location) will help you to educate yourself on the best use of your seat, with your child, in your car.  Vermont has more than 30 fitting stations for you to visit and usually has 15-25 inspections every year.  For a list of upcoming inspections, check out the end of this blog.

What happens at a fitting station or inspection?

At the fitting station, the parent will pull in with the car and children.  A nationally certified child passenger safety technician will look at the kids in their seats.  The parent will fill out a little information about their car and car seats.  Then the technician will have the kids get out and look over the seats, gaining a bit more information.  If there is a recall to the seat, the parent will be notified.  The technician will demonstrate how to install the seat and remove it.  The technician will then teach the parent to install the seat.  As the installation is going on, the technician will make recommendations about the best practices to the parent about their particular seat, child and car.

Car seat recommendations for every stage of child development

Recommendations have changed significantly in the last year, let alone the past 10 years.  Things are no longer the same as they were when any of us were children.  We have better science now.  This allows us to make better recommendations to caregivers.

What are those recommendations?  Well, they are broken into 4 easy to remember stages:

Stage 1: Rear facing

New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say that children should ride rear facing until at least age 2.  We recommend that you rear-face your children as long as you are able.

Two videos to watch about rear facing vs. forward facing seats:

In the video, did you see how the rear facing seat back absorbed almost all of the crash forces?  The child dummy rode up and down, then back towards the vehicle seat.  The force was nearly all absorbed by the shell of the seat.  In comparison, the forward facing dummy had all the force placed on his neck and extremities.  This can lead to very serious injuries in young children, mainly to the head and spinal cord.  We can fix a leg.  We can’t fix a spine.  Spinal cord injuries are one of the big things to which we’re trying to prevent injury.  In babies and young children, the spinal cord comes in a number of pieces.  During the growth process, it hardens – or ossifies –  creating more and more linkages to itself so that by the time a child reaches puberty, it is one piece.

Stage 2: Forward Facing

Forward facing should happen AFTER the child has outgrown the rear facing weight limit of his or her seat.  For most car seats, this is 30-45 pounds, depending on the seat.  The child should forward-face until he or she outgrows the seat.  This happens when one of two things occurs:  the shoulders grow over the top harness slot OR the child hits the upper weight limit for the seat.  Children who outgrow their harnessed seats, but who aren’t ready for a booster yet may need a high weight harnessed seat.  There are a number of them on the market today, and that number seems to increase yearly.  We recommend that children stay harnessed until a MINIMUM of age 4 and 40 lbs.

Stage 3: Boosters

Preferably, a child won’t go into a booster until he’s age 5-6.  Developmentally, this is when the iliac crest of the hip begins to flare out.  In adults, this flare in the hip bone is what holds the seat belt on.   Kids just don’t have much hip until this age.  Once they begin to grow it, using the booster and the seat belt becomes MUCH safer.  Kids should use a high backed booster until they out grow the moveable part of the high back, then use a low back booster until they can pass the 5 step test (below) to fit into the seat belt.

Stage 4: Seat belt 

Kids go into the seat belt when they can pass the 5 step test:

  1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
  2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
  3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
  4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If both the child and parent agree that all 5 steps are passed, they can go into the adult seat belt.  If they do not pass, the child should remain in a booster.  Test kids in every car they ride in.  They may fit into one car well, but not another.  Each seatbelt configuration is different and may fit differently.

There are many boosters on the market today with wide seats; being squished is being one of the biggest complaints we hear from both parents and children – there is a fix – a different seat!

When can my child safely sit in the front seat?

Children should stay in the back seat until they are at least 13.  This is because frontal air bags explode at 250-300 MPH -yep, you read that right, miles per hour.   Kids just don’t have the bone hardness to withstand the airbag explosion until they hit about 13 years old, when they are close to their adult height and bone hardening begins in earnest.

If you have questions or comments, please contact us at 888-VMT-SEAT or on the web at

Ann Weinstein is a Child Passenger Safety Specialist at the Office of Community Health Improvement at the UVM Medical Center.

***Child Passenger Safety Week is 9/17-9/24 – Have your child’s car seat inspected at one of the following locations!***


9/17/11 –Northshire Day School, 5484 Main St. Manchester Center, VT 10am – 1pm

9/19/11 – Yankee Traveller Motel, 342 Portland St., St. Johnsbury, VT 2pm-6pm

9/21/11 – TBA –Newport, 2pm-6pm

9/22/11 –Hull Insurance, 37 Pearl St., Enosburg, VT 2pm-6pm

9/24/11 –165 North Main St.,Rutland, VT 10am-1pm (Law enforcement detail)

10/8/11 – Home Depot, Harvest Lane, Williston, VT 10 am – 2 pm

10/15/11 – TBA, Barre, VT 10am – 2pm

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