Personal Safety

Car Seat Safety In 2024: Guidelines & Safety Checks By Type Of Seat, For Newborns, Dogs, & More

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Mom helping infant into car seat
This mom is helping her baby into her car seat. Does she have the right type of seat and is it installed correctly to maximize the baby’s safety?

It should be no surprise that vehicle safety experts emphasize the importance of a quality car seat that protects infants and toddlers during a crash. After all, according to data from the U.S. National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle collisions are one of the leading causes of death in children from newborns to 15 years. It is essential to choose and properly install a quality car seat. The good news? We’ve compiled a guide to teach you all there is to know about car seat safety.

Purchasing a proper car seat is crucial not only for our human babies but for our fur babies as well. While we love watching our four-legged friends enjoy the breeze on their faces, using safety tools on dogs and other pets is crucial for preventing injury and death.

Read this article to learn about car seat safety and how to pick the best car seat for your family’s needs.

5 Types Of Car Seats: Infant vs Convertible vs All-In-1 vs Combination vs Booster

According to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), securing your child in an appropriate cart seat for their age and size is crucial

There are two basic styles of car seats for children: front-facing and rear-facing. From there, these styles can be broken down further based on the level of support.

The type of car seat you choose will largely depend on your child’s size and age. While there are age requirements for each seat, children grow at their own pace, and the seat should change accordingly.

1. Infant Car Seat (Rear-Facing Only)

This rear-facing seat doubles as a carrier and includes a handle to transport your child. The infant car seat was created for newborns and is typically used up to age one when a child transitions to a different seat. Most children outgrow the infant car seat by their first birthday.

The infant car seat exclusively faces the back of the vehicle and features a 5-point harness to secure your baby. A rear-facing seat is the best way to keep your child safe in a collision. Along with the added protection, infant car seats make traveling between cars convenient since you can purchase multiple bases that work with the same seat.

2. Convertible Car Seat

Designed to transition from rear-facing to forward-facing, the convertible car seat uses a 5-point harness to secure your child. This seat is bulkier than the infant car seat and can’t be removed and used as a carrier. The convertible seat extends the maximum weight limit, making it a great option if your child exceeds the height and weight requirements of the infant car seat.

This car seat is more cost-effective than purchasing an infant car seat since you won’t need to transition car seats so soon. Your child can use this car seat from birth to seven years, depending on their size.

3. All-In-One Car Seat

Similar to the convertible car seat, the all-in-one seat can face both the rear and front and uses a 5-point harness. In addition, this car seat may be used as a high-back booster seat. These seats are stationary and can’t be removed as a carrier.

The all-in-one seat can be used from infancy until a child no longer needs a car seat. This is the most cost-effective option since you should not need to replace the seat.

4. Combination Seat (Forward-Facing Only)

The combination seat is forward-facing only with a 5-point harness. This seat converts to a booster seat where a child can transition from the 5-point harness to the lap and shoulder seat belt.

5. Booster Seat

Booster seats are intended to lift children slightly until they are big enough for the seat belt to fit correctly. Check to see that the lap belt is snug across the upper thighs and not across the stomach. The shoulder strap should lie across the shoulder and chest, away from the face and neck.

It is recommended that a child use a booster seat until they are eight to 12 years old. You may wish to purchase a specific booster seat based on your vehicle. The all-in-one and combination seats are classified as booster seats. Booster seats are also available with a high back or backless.

Typically at eight to 12 years, kids are big enough to sit in a seat belt properly. Remember, a child is safest in the backseat. Keep your kiddos in the back as long as you can.

4 Must-Know Car Seat Safety Guidelines

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are four fundamental safety guidelines to follow when choosing a type of car seat:

  1. Find a car seat that is appropriate for your child’s age and size. You can use the NHTSA Car Seat Finder or a brand’s listed measurements to ensure the model is suitable for your child’s height and weight. Use a car seat that properly fits in your vehicle.
  2. Always follow the height and weight limits of the car seat listed in the manufacturer’s instructions and install the car seat only after reading the vehicle owner’s manual.
  3. Use a car seat for as long as possible. Replace the car seat if your child exceeds the age and size requirements.
  4. Postone your child riding in the front seat to age 12.

Safe Kids Worldwide has a car seat safety checklist that we created so you can easily reference it on the go.

Car seat safety checklist infographic

Car Seat Safety Ratings

You’re no doubt wondering what car seat is the best buy. Our experts review dozens of models— including Safety 1st, Chicco, and Britax—and bring you our top picks in our infant car seat reviews.

Car Seat Installation – Best Practices

Always consult the vehicle and car seat manuals for placement and installation tips. In a crash, proper installation can make all the difference. Read on for tips on best practices for car seat installation.

Newborn Car Seat Safety

Newborns are especially at risk of injury in the event of a vehicle crash. A baby’s spine is still developing, making it hard to hold up their heads. A crash that causes your baby’s spine to stretch could result in severe injury and can be fatal.

Use a rear-facing cart seat in the back of the car for as long as possible, as this is the safest method of transportation for your child. Make sure the harness is snug, without twists. There should be one inch or more between the top of your child’s head and the top of the car seat.

Winter Car Seat Safety

Before leaving home on a chilly day, prep your car to make it comfortable for your passenger. Store the detachable portion of your car seat inside to ensure your child won’t lose body heat from the cold seat. Make sure to pack hats, mittens, and extra layers.

When buckling your child into their car seat in the winter, remove any bulky clothes that could affect how you tighten the harness. Thick layers make it hard to tighten the harness correctly and may cause you to leave extra space under the harness. If too loose, a child could slip through the strap and be thrown from their seat. Instead, use a coat or blanket over the straps. You can add a blanket to keep your baby warm and ensure they are safely strapped in the car seat. Never cover your baby’s face, which could lead to accidental suffocation.

Transitioning From Car Seat To Booster Seat

According to Jennifer Beall Saxton, entrepreneur and expert in child passenger safety, the biggest mistake parents make when getting a car seat is picking the wrong type for your child’s height and weight. “Sometimes kids (and parents) are in a rush to move to a booster seat,” Saxton says. “The 5-point harness of the convertible seat reduces impact to a small body in a crash better than a conventional seat belt does, which is what a booster seat employs. 

Saxton is the founder, and CEO of Tot Squad, the mobile car seat-cleaning, and repair service turned digital marketplace that connects busy parents with experts in child passenger safety, breastfeeding, nutrition, and sleep training. We interviewed Saxton to hear what she recommends regarding car seat installation. At the time of this interview, in 2016, Tot Squad was still functioning as a cleaning and repair service that just recently became a nationwide franchise.

Read on to hear more safety tips from Saxton, who still heads Tot Squad.

Why Is Car Seat Safety So Important?

I became truly passionate about car seat safety after receiving my certification as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) in 2009 and began seeing firsthand how many car seats are incorrectly installed. There have been so many innovations in the car seat industry, but it’s a challenge for parents to keep up with all the changes and their everyday applications. That is why Tot Squad employs a team of certified CPSTs.

– Jen Saxton, Founder Tot Squad

When Should Car Seats Be Used?

Your child should ride in a car seat every single time they are in a moving vehicle. Even if you are only running to the store on the corner, accidents can happen anytime, and most accidents happen close to home. Also, any time your child is in a carpool or being driven by a caretaker, ensure they have a properly-installed car seat that is appropriate for their height and weight. I am a stickler, so even when you travel, bring or borrow a car seat. Accidents can happen anywhere.

Any Tips For Installing A Car Seat Safely?

Before installing the seat, adjust the height and recline of the seat to the correct position for your child. Whether you are using the vehicle’s LATCH system or the seat belt to install the car seat, be sure it does not move one inch in any direction at the belt path. If your car seat is front facing, make sure you also secure it with the top tether. Besides the manual your car seat comes with, many manufacturers have videos available online for demonstrations and tips.

How Often Should You Check Car Seats Are Safely Installed?

Anytime you place your child in their seat, give the seat a shake to ensure the installation is still tight. Over time, it might loosen, or your child may unbuckle the seatbelt. Also, after visiting the car wash, be sure your child’s seat is still tightly secured. Car wash technicians are notorious for unbuckling or moving a seat when cleaning.

What Is The Most Overlooked Thing With Car Seat Safety?

Beyond installing your car seat properly, be sure your child is also buckled up securely. If rear-facing, the shoulder strap should start just under and come over their shoulder. If front-facing, the shoulder strap should start at or above the shoulder. The chest clip should fall right at their armpits. You should not have enough slack in the harness strap fabric to pinch it vertically.

Safety Seats For Dogs And Cats

Small black and white dog in car seat and being buckled up in a harness in the back seat of a car with black interior
A safe and secure dog is a happy dog! Fido should buckle up and use a car seat too.

According to the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), when traveling, you should always restrain your pet with a safety harness or in a travel carrier or travel crate. Many pet seats on the market hold your pet, but even with restraints, they may do little to protect your dog from injury during a crash. 

If you are unsure where to start when purchasing a safety harness, car seat, or travel carrier, look for a CPS-certified product. While the list is small, all products have been independently crash-tested to ensure your pet will be as safe as possible during a collision. 

As with all vehicle safety products, read through the owner’s manual and secure your carrier, crate, or harness as directed. Ensure that your safety product is adequately secured each time before traveling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Safe For My Child’s Feet To Touch The Back Seat?

Yes, it is safe for your kid’s feet to touch the back seat when they are in a rear-facing seat.

What If I Need To Drive More Children Than Those Who Can Fit In The Back Seat?

Avoid putting any child under the age of 13 in the front seat. If absolutely necessary, use a forward-facing seat with a harness while also moving the seat as far back as possible from the dashboard.

What Is The Difference Between A High-Back And A Backless Booster?

Besides the presence or absence of an attached headrest, the most significant difference is that backless boosters tend to cost less and are most easily moved from vehicle to vehicle.

Best Infant Car Seats

Now you’re an expert on car seat safety, the types of car seats available, and how to install and use them safely. But who makes the best seats? Find out as our experts select the best infant car seats.

Tara Maurer

Since joining the Safe Smart Living team, Tara has covered topics ranging from home security and identity protection to smart travel and educated living. After graduating with a BA in Multimedia Journalism from Simpson College, Tara began work in the wellness industry. In the past seven years, she has personally tested countless supplements and holds a holistic nutrition certification. Tara is passionate about personal safety, especially for women. It’s a sad truth that most women experience harassment while in public spaces during their lifetime, and we must learn tactics to protect ourselves. As a female runner, Tara has tested various safety products, including alarms, pepper sprays, reflective gear, and tracking devices. When not working, you’ll most likely find Tara running, reading the latest fantasy novel, or trying out a new healthy recipe.

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