The Four Stages Of Car Seat Safety

(Last Updated On: June 27, 2018)

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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 ride in  the front seat after their 13th birthday.

Progressing from any of these steps should not be rushed.  When it comes to child passenger safety, it’s best practice to put off those milestones by using your safety seats to their maximums.

We’ll cover the basics of those four stages here.

The Four Steps of car seat safety

The Four Steps of car seat safety

Rear Facing

Graco Snugride Snuglock 35 DLX infant fit

Graco Snugride Snuglock 35 DLX infant fit

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

Here are the basics of a proper rear facing fit:

  • Position the harness straps at or below the child’s shoulders.
  • Position the chest clip at the child’s armpit level.
  • Install the car seat at the correct angle — newborns require a more reclined angle while older babies with neck control can often ride more upright.
  • Lock the handle into position before heading out for a drive.
  • The child is within the weight and height limits for the seat and has at least 1 inch (unless otherwise specified) of the seat’s shell above their head.
Graco Extend2Fit Rear Facing 4 year sold

Graco Extend2Fit Rear Facing 4 years old

  • Keep those kiddos rear facing until they’ve reached the height or weight limit of their car seat! Children can ride safe and comfortably with their legs crossed, propped up, or hanging off to the side.

Forward Facing

Graco Nautilus, 5 years, 4 months old , 45 pounds, 45 inches tall

Graco Nautilus, 5 years, 4 months old , 45 pounds, 45 inches tall

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. CSFTL advocates that children ride rear facing until closer to their 4th birthdays.Here are the basics of a proper forward facing fit:

  • The harness straps are at or above the child’s shoulders.
  • The chest clip is at child’s armpit level.
  • The child’s ears are below the top of the shell.
  • The car seat’s top tether is attached to the vehicle’s tether anchor.

Belt Positioning Booster Seat

Chicco MyFit 6 years old booster mode

Chicco MyFit 6 years old booster mode

Children who have outgrown their harnessed seats, and are least 5 years old, can move to a belt positioning booster until they properly fit the vehicle seat belt, usually that’s somewhere around 10-12 years old.

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

There are two types of booster seats: high back and backless.  High back booster seats offer a bit more side protection and can help remind kiddos to sit properly.  We advocate that children ride in the high back booster until they’ve outgrown it, then switch to a backless booster seat until they can pass the Five Step Test.

Here are the basics of a proper booster seat fit:

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

Vehicle Seat Belt

Young adults who pass the Five Step Test can ride in the vehicle seat belt in the back seat of the vehicle.

Young adults who pass the Five Step Test can ride in the vehicle seat belt in the back seat of the vehicle.

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

Here is the Five Step Test:

  • The young adult sits all the way back in the vehicle seat with their knees bent at the edge of the seat.
  • The vehicle shoulder belt fits evenly across the young adult’s torso, not cutting into the neck or face.
  • The vehicle lap belt is low on the young adult’s hips, touching the tops of the thighs.
  • The young adult’s feet are flat on the floor.
  • The young adult can remain seated comfortably this way for the entire ride.