Car Seat Safety: The Laws and Steps to Keeping Your Child Protected
Written by Heather Ayers-Cluff, MSW, CPST; Jessica MacDonald, PT, CPST; Kathleen Palas, RN III, CPST; Mina Farag, MPH, CPSTI
Effective Jan. 1, 2017, Assembly Bill 53 requires all children under 2 years old to ride in a rear-facing car seat. The new law will NOT apply to children who weigh 40 or more pounds OR are 40 or more inches tall. According to the law, children shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat. Current California state law requires children to be in a car seat or booster seat until 8 years old. Children who are 4 feet 9 inches tall may use the vehicle seat belt if it fits properly.
While the new law increases child passenger safety protection, the Injury Prevention Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles recommends that children travel in a rear-facing car seat as long as the height and weight limits of the car seat allow. A research study finds that a rear-facing car seat is up to 75 percent more effective in preventing death or significant injury. Children traveling in a rear-facing car seat have better head, neck and spine support in motor vehicle collisions. Better support leads to a lower risk of death, and spinal cord and brain injuries.
Car Seat Selection and Proper Use
Choosing the correct car seat is just part of the equation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly. To ensure your child’s safety, make sure you avoid these common mistakes.
- Select the car seat that fits your child’s age, weight, height and developmental level. Be sure the car seat isn’t expired, recalled by the manufacturer or missing any parts, and has not been affected by a previous car accident.
- Make sure your child faces the correct direction. Children should travel rear facing as long as they are within the height and weight limits of the car seat.
- Locate the safest area of your vehicle for the car seat. Car seats should be in a backseat location with very few exceptions. Rear-facing car seats should NEVER be in a seat with a frontal airbag. If you are unsure, please contact our Injury Prevention team or visit carseat.org.
- Install the car seat with either the seatbelt or your vehicle’s LATCH system (never both) based on your vehicle manual. Make sure it is tightly installed with one inch or less of movement in any direction. Use a top tether for forward-facing car seats whenever possible.
- Harness your child into their seat appropriately. Harnesses should be threaded at or below a child’s shoulder if they are traveling rear-facing. Harnesses should be threaded at or above a child’s shoulder if they are traveling forward-facing. It should fit snugly—you should not be able to pinch excess harness strapping. Take off extra bulky winter layers to make sure the harness fits.
Types of Car Seats
There are 4 main types of car seats, it is important that the transition between car seats is based on the child’s age, weight, height and developmental level.
- Rear- facing only car seat
These car seats are designed for infants only. Typically these seats come with a detachable base that can be left in the car; the seat can also be installed without the base if needed. Check your car seat for height and weight limits.
- Convertible car seat
These are car seats that can be rear or forward facing. They can typically be used for children of a variety of ages, heights and weights all of which are detailed in the seat’s owner’s manual. Children should remain rear facing in these seats until they outgrow the maximum rear facing limit which can vary.
- Combination seat
These are car seats that a combination of a forward facing seat and a booster seat. Children can ride forward facing with a 5 point harness. Children can also use it as a booster seat with the 5 point harness removed.
- Booster Seats
There are two types of booster seats: high-back and backless. These are used when a child has outgrown their forward-facing seat with a harness but are too small to ride with a seat belt only.
For additional information on different types of car seats, download our brochure.