Parents have been driving up to me with questions about new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding car seats. One question I get asked is, just how long should a child be placed rear-facing?

3 Types of Car Seats

There are three basic types of car seats, rear-facing, convertible, and booster seats. Choosing the right car seat is dependent on the weight and height of your child rather than the age.

Rear-facing seats are recommended to reduce serious injury risk in infants. This style is safe for toddlers until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the seat’s manufacturer. For most rear-facing seats, this means weight limits of 30 to 35 pounds and/or height limits of 32-36 inches.

A convertible seat is one that converts from rear-facing to forward facing. This style is for when your toddler outgrows the weight limit or length limit for rear-facing. These seats are bigger and can have rear-facing weight limits of 40-50 pounds. With the weight requirement, preschoolers may be rear-facing before they are of the size requirement to sit forward facing.

Finally, there are booster seats for children who outgrow the forward-facing seat height or weight requirements. What if your child doesn’t want to go into a booster seat? Well remember it’s the law, but also don’t call it a booster or baby seat. Instead, remind them that with a booster seat they will feel more comfortable in a seat and lap belt. Show them that the seat belt won’t ride across their stomach or their face or neck when in a booster seat.

When can my child ride in a regular seat?

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 and move into the vehicle’s regular seat. This usually occurs after a child has reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and is between the ages of 8 and 12 years. Children under 12 should still ride in the rear seat since they are prone to head and neck injuries from the pressure of the airbag opening.

And 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 ensuring their safety on the road.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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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