Which is the best safety seat?
The “best” safety seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car, and fits your family’s needs in terms of comfort and convenience, so that you’ll use it correctly on every single ride. For more information, go to “Which is “the best” safety seat for my child?” in English and Español.

What are the basic guidelines for proper safety seat use?

    • Always read the safety seat instructions and vehicle owner’s manual first.
    • Install the safety seat so that it moves no more than an inch to the front or sideways in the vehicle. For more information, go to Installation.
    • Safety seats vary in how the harness straps are threaded or adjusted.(For more information, go to rethread vs. no-rethread harness).
    • For rear-facing children, harness straps should be level with or below the child’s shoulders. For forward-facing children, harness straps should be at or above.
    • The harness should be comfortable but snug enough that the webbing cannot be pinched between your fingers (Harness tightness). 
    • The top of the chest clip must be at armpit level.
    • Put any blankets or coats on top of the harness. STRAP before you WRAP.
    • Buckle up children in the back seat, especially if the vehicle has a passenger air bag. Never put a rear-facing safety seat in front of a passenger air bag.
    • ALWAYS use the tether on a forward-facing safety seat with an internal harness. This reduces the forward-motion of the child’s head in a crash by 4-to-8 inches.

What is the best way to stay warm in a safety seat or booster?
Clothing worn by children under the safety seat harness can interfere with snug harness straps. Bulky jackets and snowsuits compress in a crash and leave the harness slack on a child, allowing excessive movement or even ejection. It is best to have children travel with coats on backwards over the harness, or to add a blanket over the child after the harness has been buckled. Jackets that are worn the regular way should be no heavier than lightweight fleece fabric or they can be left unfastened to allow contact between the child and the harness or safety belt. An option for an infant in rear-facing-only seat is a shower cap-style seat cover. This fits over the top of the safety seat, has an elastic band around the edge, and has no fabric behind or under the child. For more on this topic, go to Padded inserts, blankets, and bulky clothing.

How can I tell if the safety seat fits my car?
The best way is to try it out in your car before you buy the safety seat. You may have problems if the vehicle seat has deep contours, humps, or certain types of safety belts. Read the instructions that come with the safety seat as well as your vehicle owner’s manual. You may need special equipment from the dealer to install your seat safely if your car is older than 2002 (Top Tether Anchor). Look in the index of your vehicle owner’s manual under “child restraint,” and read about installation. A safety seat should not wobble, pivot, slide side-to-side,nor tip over. Belt-positioning boosters also should fit the shape of the vehicle seat, so they sit flat and don’t tip.

Do safety seats expire?
Most manufacturers suggest replacing a seat 6 to 10 years after the date of manufacture. It is common to lose safety seat parts over time including the instructions, straps, and inserts. This may affect the performance in a crash. Current safety seats may have better safety features than older seats. The date of manufacture may be found on a sticker on the seat. The date of manufacture should be found on the plastic shell; if this label is missing, you will need to check with SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. or the safety seat manufacturer to see if the seat is appropriate. For more information, go to Expiration Date.

What is a top tether and when is it used?
top tether is a webbing strap that is attached to the top of a safety seat on one end and equipped with a hook on the other that attaches to the tether anchor in the car. Attaching a tether will reduce the forward motion of a child’s head in a crash by 4-to-8 inches, depending on the size of the child and the severity of the crash. Use of a top tether for forward-facing safety seats is strongly recommended. Tethering a rear-facing safety seat is less common and is only allowed on a few models of seats and vehicles (Top tether, rear-facing). A tether is not necessary on booster seats, but some manufacturers of combination safety seats suggest leaving it attached even after the harness has been removed; check the instructions (for more information, refer to “How and Why to Tether” in English and Español).

What is LATCH?
This acronym stands for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren.” This safety seat installation system has been required on safety seats made after September 1, 2002, and found on a few made earlier. Earlier vehicles, lacking the hardware, may be retrofitted. Look in the vehicle owner’s manual for information about potential locations or check with SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. or Safe Ride News for retrofitting information. The system includes lower anchors in the form of rigid bars found in the vehicle seat bight and flexible or rigid lower connectors on the safety seat that connect to the lower anchor as well as a top tether strap that connects to a tether anchor in the vehicle. Please note: a tether must always be used with a forward-facing seat with an internal harness, whether lower connectors or safety belt is used to install the safety seat. For more details, go to LATCH.

Which installation is safer: lower connectors (see LATCH), safety belt, or both?
Use the safety belt or the lower connectors based on which provides the tighter fit. However, if the lower connectors are used, check the limit for the child’s weight allowed and, if the child exceeds the weight, switch to the safety belt which does not have an upper weight limit for children. There are only a few manufacturers that allow them to be used together. Refer to your safety seat and vehicle owner’s manual instructions.

Why aren’t the lower anchors in the center seating position of my car?
The short answer is that the federal regulation does not require lower bars in the center and, in many vehicles, requires lower bars in only 2 locations. If you want to use the center rear seat and no lower anchors are available, check the vehicle owner’s manual for approved lower anchor positions. Some safety seats allow you to ‘borrow’ a lower anchor from each window seat position, so you can use the center position. Check your vehicle owner’s manual and safety seat instructions to see that both instructions allow you to do this. You usually will be able to install the safety seat with the safety belt (and tether, if forward facing) in the center position instead of using lower connectors. For more information, go to LATCH.

How do I securely install a safety seat?
After you have read the instructions for the safety seat and the vehicle owner’s manual, follow these steps to install the safety seat. Thread the safety belt or lower attachments through the correct safety seat belt path. Make sure to compress the vehicle seat cushion by pushing down on the safety seat when tightening the lower connector strap or the lap-portion of the safety belt. If using rigid lower connectors, check your safety seat manual for specific instructions; most push on to the lower bars. Finally, if using the safety belt, test the lap portion to make sure it is “locked” to prevent gradual loosening. The safety seat should stay tight once it is installed (For more information, go to “Using the Safety Belt Correctly” in English and Español). For forward-facing safety seats, always attach the top tether.
a. Choose a seating position in the car with a tether anchor.
b. Place the tether strap over the back of the safety seat but leave it unattached while you install the safety seat, using the vehicle belt or lower anchor connectors.
c. To check for a tight installation, grasp the safety seat on one side near the correct rear-facing or forward-facing belt path where the safety belt or lower connectors pass through the safety seat. Try to pull it toward the front and the sides of the vehicle. If it can be moved more than 1 inch in any direction, try tightening the safety belt or lower connector strap. Test again for movement. If the safety seat is not secure, try the other method of installation (lower connectors or safety belt) or try another seating position that also includes a tether anchor.
d. After the safety seat is installed snugly, hook the top tether strap to the tether anchor in the car and tighten it until all slack is removed.

My child’s safety seat is too loose. How can I fix it?
If the safety seat slides around on the vehicle seat, your child may not be protected. Always read the instructions that come with the safety seat. Just as important, read the section on child restraints in your vehicle owner’s manual. It also may help refer to the SBS USA parent handout entitled “Using the Safety Belt Correctly” in English and Español. To check installation, grasp the safety seat on one side near the correctly installed rear-facing or forward-facing belt path with your non-dominant hand and try to pull it away from the vehicle seat and from side to side. If it can be moved more than 1 inch in any direction, it is too loose. Try re-tightening the safety belt or lower connector strap. Test again for movement. If the safety seat is not secure, try the other method of installation (lower connectors or safety belt) or try another seating position. Some safety belts, vehicle seats, and safety seats are not compatible. Contact the Safe Ride Helpline 1-800-745-SAFE, if you have followed these instructions but cannot get the safety seat correctly installed. It is acceptable (and normal) if the top of a rear-facing safety seat can be pushed toward the rear of the car. (A few rear-facing safety seats have a tether to the floor or an anti-rebound bar to restrict this motion.) It is also normal for the top of a rear-facing seat to swivel from side to side (toward the right or left front fender of the vehicle) when it is gripped at the top edge. These are not the correct ways to check for a tight installation.

What is a locking clip?
In the United States, model year 1996 and newer vehicles are required to have safety belts that lock in some manner for installation of safety seats. If the lap-shoulder belt does not have either a switchable retractor or a locking latch plate, you should use a metal “locking clip” to keep it tight OR purchase a safety seat with a built-in lock-off. A locking clip can be found attached to the side or back of some safety seats or you can request one free from a safety seat manufacturer. It is a clip to keep the lap portion of a continuous-webbing lap-shoulder belt tight on a safety seat by clamping it to the shoulder portion next to the buckle. The clip helps the safety belt from sliding through the latchplate during ordinary driving so it is in place securely in place in a crash or sudden stop. If lap-only belt or shoulder-lap belt that has separate lap and shoulder segments. (For more information, go to “Using the Safety Belt Correctly” in English and Español).

My safety seat is installed with a lap-only safety belt that keeps loosening. What can I do?
If a lap-only safety belt loosens during use, try turning the latch plate over before buckling the belt. This will re-position the “tilt-lock” or locking bar mechanism used on lap-only belts and keep the belt tight. In some vehicle models from the 1970’s, there are emergency-locking-only lap belts. These do not have manual locking systems; contact SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. for help.

Where is the safest place to sit in the car?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all children 12 and under be restrained in the rear seat. Researchers estimate that putting a child in the back seat instead of the front reduces the chance of injury and death by more than 30%, whether or not the car has a passenger air bag. The center of the back seat is the farthest away from a possible side impact, so always try first to install a safety seat there. If you can’t secure the safety seat firmly in the center or there is more than one child in the car, you will need to use an outboard (side) seating position. Safety seats fit differently with various vehicle belts and seat cushions, and a tight installation is very important. If the car has lap-shoulder belts on the sides only, older children in boosters or belts alone should sit on the side instead of using a lap-only belt in the center. If there are two young children in the family, it may be necessary to separate them for various behavioral reasons, and particularly if one is a vulnerable newborn, and not use the center seat for either one.

How do I secure a newborn in a safety seat?
A newborn will need to ride facing the rear of the vehicle in a safety seat reclined halfway back. This gives the best protection for the head and neck while keeping the airway open. (For more information, go to Angle of recline, rear-facing.) The first preference for location of the safety seat in the vehicle is the center rear seat, farthest from all points of potential impact. Safety seat choices include a rear-facing-only seat or a convertible seat in rear-facing mode. When identifying the best safety seat, look for at least one set of very low harness strap slots, so that the straps come up and over the baby’s shoulders.
Place the baby in the safety seat buttocks first, with the infant’s back resting against the safety seat back. There should be nothing added under the baby. Blankets can go over the harnessed baby: “Strap before you wrap”. The baby should not be bundled or dressed in a sack-type outfit but in something that keeps the legs free. One leg is on each side of the crotch strap with the harness across the baby’s hips or thighs, and each arm is outside the shoulder strap, not under it. Place the straps over the child’s shoulders. Be sure that some soft fabric (the baby’s collar or the harness strap cover that came with the seat) is between the harness and the infant’s neck to avoid chafing, fasten the buckle, and then tighten the straps to make the harness “snug,” so that no slack can be pinched between thumb and forefinger (For more information, go to Harness tightness.) Buckle the chest clip; then slide it up so the top edge is at armpit level.
Most seats come with inserts to improve newborn fit. If not, rolled receiving blankets on each side of the child’s body (no higher than the top of the shoulders) can give support needed by filling the spaces to the sides. Be sure to keep the blankets outside the harness and from under the baby. If necessary and permitted by the safety seat manufacturer, place a rolled washcloth between the crotch and crotch strap to reduce slumping. Rolled blankets and washcloths may be used only if allowed by the safety seat manufacturer, so make sure to check the safety seat instructions.

How do I keep a premature baby safe in the car? 
A child born prematurely or small (before 37 weeks and/or under 2500 grams) often requires a car seat tolerance screening in the safety seat parents hoped to use. The intensive care unit will do this because the semi-reclined position of the safety seat can put some infants at risk for breathing and heart-rate problems. Some of these infants will need to use a crash-tested infant car bed instead of a standard safety seat. These infants should be retested to determine when they can ride safely in a semi-reclined position in their standard safety seat..

Why is facing rearward so important for young children?
Young children have heavy heads and fragile necks. The neck bones are soft, and the ligaments are stretchy. If the child is facing forward in a frontal crash (the most common and most severe type of crash), the body is held back by the straps, but the head is not. The head is thrown forward, stretching the neck. Older children and adults wearing safety belts may end up with temporary neck injuries, but a young child’s neck bones are soft, can separate during a crash, and the spinal cord can tear.
In contrast, when a young child rides facing rearward, the whole body–head, neck, and torso–is cradled by the back of the safety seat in a frontal crash. Facing rearward also protects the child better in other types of crashes, particularly side impacts.

How long should children ride facing the back of the car?
Children should face the back of the car until they have reached the rear-facing height or weight limit of their convertible safety seat. Children in Sweden ride rear-facing until at least four years old and show the lowest injury/fatality rates worldwide. In a crash, if forward facing, a young child’s spinal cord may stretch up to two inches, causing death or lifelong paralysis.
Most convertible safety seats can be used facing the rear up to 40-50 pounds, allowing most children to ride facing rear until they are three to four years old. The feet touching the vehicle seat is not a safety concern, so there is no reason to turn children forward before they reach the height or weight limit of their safety seat and risk spinal injury. When using any safety seat facing rear (rear-facing-only or convertible), make sure the child’s head is at least an inch below the top of the safety seat, so that the head is not exposed to contact with the vehicle interior in the event of a crash.
There is a growing number of states that require children to ride facing rear until they are at least 2 years old. For more information, go to “How long should children ride facing the back of the car?” in English and Español.

How common are leg injuries in rear-facing children?
There is no evidence that the legs in rear-facing children are at risk of injury in a crash. In fact, leg and foot injuries are more common in children facing the front of the car. Most children learn to fold up their legs for comfort when their feet touch the back of the vehicle seat, they hang them over the sides of the safety seat or kick them up on the vehicle seat. The only physical limit on rear-facing use is when the child’s head reaches within about an inch of the top of the safety seat.

When is it safe for a child to ride without a booster?
The best way to determine if a child is ready to use the safety belt without a booster is to take the 5-Step Test. Most children need to use a booster until they are at least age 10-12.
The 5-Step Test.
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, the child tested needs a booster seat to make both the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right for the best crash protection. They will be more comfortable, too!

Can a safety seat be used after a crash?
Generally, the recommendation is to replace all safety seats in use in a crash. Some safety seat manufacturers have specific replacement rules to be followed after a crash so check the instructions. It is impossible to tell if there is internal weakening of the plastic of the safety seat to verify that it is safe to use. In California and many other states, law requires that the responsible insurer replace safety seats that were in use at the time of the crash. In other states, the insurer of the responsible party may pay for the replacement of the safety seat. If your agent is not assisting with this step, SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. will provide a letter of support for this position.

How can I keep a child from getting out of his/her safety seat?
Unfortunately, there is no escape-proof safety seat. Children who learn how to get out of one kind of safety seat soon learn how to escape from others. However, most children quickly respond to parental firmness. This finding is based on a study conducted by SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. with data collected from a range of English and Spanish speaking families.
In general, first make sure that the shoulder straps are in the correct slots, that the harness is very snug, and that the chest clip is at armpit level.
Next, plan to spend one or two intense weeks working on the problem. Bring the safety seat into your home and let your child play “mom” or “dad,” and carefully buckle in a favorite doll or animal. This dramatic play begins the process of identification with the best way to behave. Schedule each trip so that you have enough time to pull over and stop the car every single time your child gets out of the safety seat. Each time, explain that you cannot drive until everyone is buckled up. If you act bored instead of angry, they are more likely to change their behavior.
Plan some rewards, too. For instance, arrange a special trip to a place the child likes to visit and explain that the car will get there faster if everyone stays buckled up. Try playing music your child likes and give them soft toys and thin books to enjoy in the car, but nothing hard or sharp that could hurt someone in a crash. Children look forward to having special toys for trips. Rotating a few items from week to week will help keep their interest. Give positive feedback every time they do stay in their seat properly.
If your child belongs to a day care or activity group, discuss the need for a buckle-up program for all children and parents. There are probably other parents who would welcome this kind of help as well. Contact SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. for our “Bucklebear” curriculum which can be helpful in educating pre-school age children and parents. (For more information, go to “My child won’t stay in the car seat!” in English and Español).

Is it safe for two children to share one safety belt?
No. A crash test was conducted with two “child” dummies sitting side by side and buckled into one safety belt. The dummies’ heads crashed together hard enough to cause severe injuries, and records show that children have died this way. Children also have died when sitting on someone’s lap, with both of them buckled into one belt. In a crash, the lap-held child is crushed to death as the weight of the older child or adult presses him against the belt. Remember this rule: “One person, one safety belt.” If you transport more people in your vehicle than you have safety belts, you may not have adequate insurance to cover all of the claims resulting from a crash. And, in many states, 2-in-a belt is illegal.

How can I safely transport a child in a pickup truck?
Many pickup trucks have back seats that are too small for safety seats. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have found that the risk of injury to children riding in the back seat of a compact extended-cab pickup truck is five times higher than when riding in any other vehicle. Injuries appear to be caused by hitting the inside of the pickup.
If you have a larger pickup with a back seat that faces the front of the truck, a safety seat may be installed there if the truck manual allows it and the safety seat base is supported by the truck seat cushion. Check the safety seat instructions, since manufacturers require that 80-100% of the base be touching the vehicle seat. You can reduce the risk of injury for forward-facing children by tethering the safety seat. Using a top tether can reduce substantially the risk of a child’s head striking the interior of the pickup. Installation of a safety seat on a side-facing jump seat is not allowed by any safety seat manufacturer.
Some passenger air bags will expand to cover the center seating position, so installing a safety seat in that location may be dangerous to your child. Check the vehicle owner’s manual to find out where safety seats may be installed. If you must install a safety seat in the front seat of a pickup truck, make sure the air bag is switched off. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual or a dealership to identify the airbag on/off switch. Installing a safety seat in the front seat of any vehicle increases the risk of death to your child by more than 30%, so a pickup truck without a back seat is not the safest choice for transporting a child.

How should children be protected on airplanes?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends, but does not require, using safety seats on airplanes. Babies and children are much better protected during turbulence and in emergency landings when they use a safety seat. SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. has petitioned the FAA to require all passengers to be buckled up, including children under two, who currently are exempt. The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security has recommended that all children be properly restrained. If you buy a ticket for your child, you have a right to use your FAA-approved safety seat, just as you would in your car. But if you don’t buy a ticket and want to use the nearest empty seat, the airline can refuse. Find the wording on the safety seat label and in the safety seat instructions that says your seat is certified for use in aircraft, in case a flight attendant questions you. You can collect frequent flyer miles for your child from an early age when you purchase an airline ticket for them, too! Measure your safety seat at the base. If it is wider than 17″, it might not fit into a coach-class seat. Since airplanes have no shoulder belts, belt-positioning boosters cannot be used. There is an FAA-approved child harness that can only be used on airplanes, it is designed to keep the upper body in position, but it is not intended to be used as a safety seat in the car. Rear-facing seats protect best, but a forward-facing safety seat is much better than none. Follow your safety seat instructions on how to secure the seat on airplanes. It may be helpful to print the following to take with you on the plane:

How should a pregnant woman protect herself in a vehicle?
Car crashes are the leading cause of death and serious injuries during pregnancy. It is not possible to determine precise numbers, but estimates are 300 fetal losses occurring each year in the U.S. as a result of automotive crashes.
Wearing a safety belt protects not only the pregnant woman but also her unborn baby. An analysis of several years of Utah death records found that fetal death from a vehicle crash was 2.8 times more likely if the pregnant woman was unbelted than if she was belted. It is essential that the safety belt be placed properly, with the lap portion across the hip bones, below the belly, and the shoulder portion between the neck and the top of the arm. Adjust or remove coats so they don’t interfere with safety belt fit. To reduce risks, pregnant women may choose to travel less, especially in hazardous conditions, and to sit in the back seat, when possible, as long as a lap-shoulder belt is used. Do not turn off or disconnect air bags. When driving, sit as far away as possible from the steering wheel and tilt it toward the chest, not the belly or face. If a pregnant woman is involved in any crash, even a very minor one, she should immediately go to the hospital or her obstetrician’s office for fetal monitoring.

Can I get a ticket if I make a safety seat error?
In short: yes. Please refer to your state Vehicle Code (http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics#statelaws) to learn about the child passenger safety laws applicable to you and the fines associated with breaking those laws.
For California, the consequences for failing to properly buckle up any child under 16 are as follows:

    • The parent gets the ticket if a child under 16 is not properly buckled up.
    • The driver gets the ticket if the parent is not in the car.
    • The overall cost of a ticket could be more than $500 per child; the fine for a second offense could be more than $1000 per child. One point is added to the driving record, which could raise insurance rates. Part of the fine money goes to a special fund to help pay for local safety seat education and distribution programs.

What is a car bed? 
Some babies cannot be transported safely in the semi-reclined angle of a conventional safety seat. Maybe they have heart or respiratory diagnoses that are exacerbated by the baby sitting at this angle or the baby has a diagnosis or surgery that requires they remain flat. Your healthcare provider and Child Passenger Safety Technician will recommend a car bed for safe transportation. This is often temporary until the baby’s situation is resolved. Car beds differ and range in weight from birth up to 35 lbs.