The Four Steps of Car Seat Safety

As parents we witness many milestones in our children’s lives. Some are wonderful, some just happen, and some we are naturally apprehensive about. When it comes to child passenger safety, four steps will take a child through their entire time from birth until they can begin to use the front seat after their 13th birthday. No step should be rushed: in child passenger safety it’s best practice to put off those milestones by using your safety seats to their maximums.

Rear Facing

Rear facing is the best protection for a child’s developing spine. Rear face to a minimum of age 2, ideally age 4.

 

Infants can rear face in a rear facing only car seat or convertible car seat

Infants can rear face in a rear facing only car seat or convertible car seat

  • Position harness straps at or below child’s shoulders.
  • Position chest clip at armpit level
  • Seat is installed at the correct angle
  • If using an infant seat, ensure handle is locked in a travel position per the manual.
  • 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.
Older children can generally use rear facing convertible car seats for the first 3-4 years of their life

Older children can generally use rear facing convertible car seats for the first 3-4 years of their life

 

This Graco Nautilus can be used for children ages 2 years old and older

This Graco Nautilus can be used for children ages 2 years and older

Forward Facing

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

  • Straps are at or above shoulders
  • Chest clip is at armpit level
  • Ears are below the top of the shell
  • Top tether is attached

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belt Positioning Booster

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

Children who have outgrown their harnessed seats, and are least 5 years old, can move to a belt positioning booster until 10-12 years old

Children who have outgrown their harnessed seats, and are least 5 years old, can move to a belt positioning booster until they fit the seat belt at 10-12 years old

  • 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 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.
High Back Booster

Children who have outgrown their harnessed seats, and are least 5 years old, can move to a belt positioning booster until they fit the seat belt at 10-12 years old

 

Once a child is at least 10 years old and is tall enough to pass the five step, he may move out of a booster into just a seat belt, still in the rear of the vehicle

Once a child is at least 10 years old and is tall enough to pass the five step, he may move out of a booster into just a seat belt, still in the rear of the vehicle

Seat Belt Alone

When a child is at least 10 years old and can pass the five 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.