Car Seat Safety

Posted by Chris Cox on

My journey with car seat safety has been a learning experience. Looking back now I know I made many mistakes - some potentially very dangerous that put both of my sons' lives at risk had we gotten into an accident. Luckily, I have since educated myself and corrected those mistakes so that both of my boys ride safely in the car.
Car seats always come with a manual but many parents, including myself, fail to properly read them and follow their instructions OR we read the instructions and still have no idea what to do. As a result these restraint systems are installed and used incorrectly.

Lets review some facts and statistics:
  • Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children in the US. Buckling up is the best way to save lives and reduce injuries
  • According to the CDC one study found that 72% of nearly 3,500 observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.
  • A third of children who died in crashes in 2011 were not buckled up. We—especially parents and caregivers—can do more to protect children on the road.
Without a doubt car seat safety is of the utmost importance. So how do you find the right seat for your child? lists three steps to finding out.

1. Find a car seat that fits your child. As children grow, how they sit in your car will change. Make sure the car seat you purchase is designed to fit your child’s current size and age.

2. Make sure that the car seat is the right fit for your vehicle. Not all car seats fit in all vehicles. Test the car seat you plan to buy to make sure it fits well in your vehicle.

3. Buy a car seat that can be installed and used correctly every time.

Car Seats for the Littles (CSFTL) is a community-driven, education oriented organization, staffed by Child Passenger Safety Technicians and created with the goal of sharing injury-prevention information in a manner easily accessible to the widest range of individuals. A vast amount of my awareness regarding car seat safety has come from CSFTL's Facebook group and blog. They break down car seat safety into four steps.


Rear facing is the best protection for a child’s developing spine. Rear face to a minimum of age 2, ideally age 4 or until they reach the seat's limits.
  • Harness straps should be positioned at or below the child’s shoulders
  • Chest clip should be at armpit level
  • Harness straps are snug with no twists and pass the pinch test
  • Seat is installed at the correct angle
  • If using an infant seat, refer to the user manual to make ensure handle is locked in a travel position
  • Child is within the weight and height limits and has 1″ (unless otherwise specified) of shell above their head.
  • Rear face to the limits! Don’t worry about the child’s legs, they are safe and comfortable with legs crossed, propped up, or hanging to the side
  • NOTE: Aftermarket products (often seen in infant seats) such as strap covers, head and body support pillows/positioners, car seat covers that go under the child - anything that did NOT come with the seat - should NOT be used. They have not be crash tested with the seat and could possibly compromise the car seat and it's ability to keep your child safe. They can also void the warranty for most car seats. If you have questions about using a product that did not come with your car seat contact the manufacturer.


When the child has outgrown their rear facing convertible seat (not their infant seat) and is a minimum of 2 years old, move to a forward facing seat with a 5 point harness.

  • Harness straps should be at or above the child's shoulders
  • Chest clip should be at armpit level
  • Harness straps are snug with no twists and pass the pinch test
  • Top tether is attached
  • Ears are below the top of the shell


When a child has outgrown their five point harness, is at least 5 years old and mature enough to sit properly, they can move to a belt positioning booster.

  • Shoulder belt fits evenly across and flush with the torso, not cutting into the neck, slipping off the shoulder, or held out in front of the chest.
  • Lap belt sits low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs.
  • Child is mature enough to stay seated without leaning out of the seat belt or unbuckling for the entire ride, even while asleep.
  • Shoulder belt should be threaded through the guide and positioned at or above the child’s shoulders.
  • When using a backless booster, the child should have head support from a vehicle headrest at least to the tips of their ears.
  • When the child is not in the vehicle, always secure the booster using a seat belt (or lower anchors, if provided) to keep it from becoming a projectile.


When a child is at least 10 years old and can pass the 5-step test, they are ready for an adult seat belt alone.

  • Child sits all the way back in the vehicle seat with knees bent at the edge.
  • Shoulder belt fits evenly across the torso, not cutting into the neck or face.
  • Lap belt is low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs.
  • Feet are on the floor.
  • Child can stay seated comfortably this way for the entire ride.

We want to keep our children safe while driving and installing a car seat can be a challenge. To find a child passenger safety (CPS) technician in your area who can check to make sure your child's seat is installed correctly and teach you how to use and install a car seat on your own visit:

-Melissa Moore



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