Anatomy of Child Safety Seats

Anatomy of Child Safety Seats

Dissecting the law, key details on selection and use  

Child safety seats are an essential part of family life, from the moment you and your newborn leave the hospital. Infants are required to be buckled up in rear-facing seats until they are 1 year of age and at least 20 pounds. Experts now recommend you keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible because it is five times safer than when a child rides facing the front of a vehicle.

According to California law, a child must be properly restrained in the backseat until he or she is at least 6 years old or weighs 60 pounds or more. (FYI: The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration [NHTSA] recommends that all kids 12 and under ride in the backseat.) More important details:

  • Infant car seats – These have a 20–35 pound weight limit and are designed to face the rear of the car. 
  • Convertible car seats – These are designed to be used either as a rear-facing or forward-facing seat. Once children have outgrown the rear-facing seat, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), they should use a forward-facing seat with a full harness as long as they fit.
  • Forward-facing seats – Depending on the model, these seats can be used with a harness for kids who weigh from 40 to 85 pounds. The AAP says it’s best for kids to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible.
  • Belt-positioning booster seats – These seats use regular vehicle belts to secure the child (shoulder and lap belts are required) and are for school-age kids who weigh at least 30 to 40 pounds. The NHTSA advises using a booster until adult belts fit correctly (usually when a child is about 4 feet 9 inches tall and between 8 and 12 years of age).
  • Safety – Any car seat that you buy new is technically safe, thanks to Uncle Sam’s stringent crash- and fire-safety standards. But even if a car seat itself meets the federal government’s standards, it can still pose risks to safety if it’s improperly installed or used.