First things first. It's imperative to make sure your child is using the car seat or safety restraint recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Use the safercar.gov car seat safety guide to determine if your child should be in a rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seat, booster seat or seat belt. Yes, there are significant overlaps (for example, a 4-7 year old can be in either a forward-facing car seat or booster seat, according to this chart), so when shopping for car seats or boosters, refer to the manufacturer's recommended height and weight restrictions.
Did you know that many states require children to ride in a rear-facing child restraint until they are over 20 pounds? Or that children under age 8 and less than 57 inches must use a booster seat in Arizona? As your children grow, it's important to stay on top of the changing legal requirements regarding car seats, boosters and seat belts. Check the child seat laws in your state on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website.
Now that you know the type of car seat your child needs, how can you make sure it's roadworthy? This is particularly important if you're passing down a car seat from an older sibling or relative. NHTSA's safercar.gov website offers a child seat recall campaign listing with all recalls up to 10 years old. If you're using a car seat that is more than 10 years old, check with the manufacturer for the seat's expiration date, which indicates the "useful life" of the car seat. And remember — never use a car seat if you don't know its history. A car seat that has been involved in a motor vehicle accident should never be used subsequently.
Before installing your car seat, you'll need to do a little reading. Consult your car's owner's manual for car seat installation information as well as your car seat instruction manual. In addition, follow these car seat installation tips from safercar.gov:
Even the most expertly installed car seat won't do its job unless the seat fits the child. Safercar.gov recommends the following tips to ensure the correct fit:
If you still have questions about your car seat installation, check safercar.gov or pay a visit to a Child Car Seat Inspection Station near you. Typically located in local police and fire stations, trained Child Passenger Safety Technicians provide free seat checks to ensure proper installation.
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