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Seven things you didn't know about installing car seats

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Chris Franck   Print
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To ensure your children are as safe as possible, it’s important to buy car seats that fit them correctly and offer the most complete protection at each stage. It’s also critical that car seats fit your vehicles and are installed properly.  

With this is mind, we’ve listed seven things parents need to consider when purchasing or installing a car seat:

Head safety is crucial: Head injury is the leading cause of death for children up to 12 years old involved in vehicle crashes. It also comprises 65 percent of injuries in both frontal and side impact crashes.* As a result, you should look for car seats that offer advanced safety technologies to reduce the risk of head injury in the event of a vehicle crash.

Side-impact protection matters: The U.S. has car seat safety standards only for frontal impact, although that will soon change. Research shows side impact crashes result in more severe injuries and cause 30 percent of crash fatalities.** Moreover, side air bags are not designed to protect children. This is why you should choose car seats designed with side impact protection. A web search can highlight which manufacturers offer side impact protection, the varying levels and the differences between manufacturer’s testing.

Rear-facing is safest for children under two: Research proves that toddlers are five times safer riding in a car seat rear-facing. Since 2009 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends rear facing until “at least age 2.” So when you move your baby out of the infant carrier into a convertible car seat, remember to install it rear-facing.

Your kindergartner isn’t too old for a five-point harness: A child should not move out of a five-point harness until he or she is at least four years-old; at least 40 pounds; and has the maturity to sit calmly. Look for car seat manufacturers that offer five-point harness seats with higher weight limits. Many car seat safety experts keep their children in five-point harness seats until they’re 65 to 85 pounds, based on crash research.  

LATCH has weight limits: If the term LATCH is unfamiliar to you, it stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. All passenger vehicles and child seats manufactured after September 1, 2002 are required to have special anchors for attaching the child seat directly to the vehicle rather than securing the child seat with the vehicle’s seat belt. If your child weighs more than 40 pounds, don’t automatically rely on LATCH — instead you may need to use the seat belt and the top tether to secure a five-point harness. Vehicle LATCH tethers have a limited weight capacity.  Assume it’s 40 pounds or check your vehicle’s manual.

80 percent of car seats are installed improperly: Car seats help prevent serious injuries and fatalities and, as such, require precise installation. So get help. Certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians are available in most areas to perform free installations. Visit www.safekids.org/in-your-area/events/; www.nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.cfm; www.seatcheck.org; or call your hospital, car dealership or fire station. Make sure the technician performing the install is certified.

Car seats have expiration dates: Expiration dates are recommended for various reasons: technology and standards change, components degrade from the environment, parts get lost or installed incorrectly, and instructions and labels may not be available or legible. Refer to the user guide that came with your child seat to determine its recommended life span. Also, be sure to purchase a new seat to be certain about its history. It’s difficult to confirm whether a used or older car seat was involved in an accident or a recall unless you’ve purchased the car seat yourself.

*Child Injury Led Design and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
**Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)


Chris Franck is a program manager and senior development engineer for child safety seats at Charlotte, N.C.-based Britax Child Safety Inc. Committed to child safety, he is also a Safe Kids USA Certified Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician. Chris enjoys spending time with his two children and is preparing for his third on the way.

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