Trauma from riding unprotected in cars is a major cause of death and serious injury threatening children today. California law requires all children under age six or weighing less than 60 pounds to use a child restraint system meeting federal safety standards.

"Although most parents in Contra Costa County own and use a car seat, recent studies indicate that as many as 70 percent of the car seats are inappropriately adjusted for the child or are incorrectly installed," states Carol Powers, child passenger safety coordinator at John Muir Health.

Powers notes that when installed and adjusted properly, child restraint systems are 71 percent effective at preventing fatalities and 67 percent effective at preventing hospitalization.

Car Seat Types

You must select a seat that is compatible with your vehicle and appropriate to the age of your child. Make sure it is simple to use and you can easily install it each time you need it.

Always read the manufacturer’s instructions regarding proper use and installation of your child’s car seat.

The federal government approves the following three types of child safety seats:

  • Rear-facing seats: These seats are for babies up to 35 pounds. Rear-facing seats are turned around toward the rear of the vehicle and are secured by the vehicle safety belt. Infants who outgrow the infant seat before age one should use a convertible seat in a rear-facing position. Convertible seats are for infants or toddlers and can be rear-facing or forward-facing, depending on your child’s needs.
  • Forward-facing seats: These seats are generally for toddlers between 40 to 80 pounds and have harnesses built into them. However, there are different types of forward-facing seats, including combination seats that double as boosters, and travel vests that are useful in cars with lap-only seat belts.
  • Booster seats: These seats are for children from about age 4 to age 8, or until they reach 4’9” tall. Booster seats serve as a transition from a car seat to the adult safety belt. Safety belts, which fit adults, won't fully restrain many children in a crash.

Latest in car safety

LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is a system that makes child safety seat installation easier — without using seat belts.

The government requires LATCH on most child safety seats and vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002. LATCH is not necessary for booster seats, car beds, and vests.

LATCH-equipped vehicles have at least two small sets of bars, called anchors, located in the back seat where the cushions meet. LATCH-equipped child safety seats have a lower set of attachments that fasten to these vehicle anchors.

Most forward-facing child safety seats also have a top strap (top tether) that attaches to a top anchor in the vehicle. Together, they make up the LATCH system.


If your vehicle does not have a LATCH system in place, but your car seat does — don’t worry. Any child safety seat, even one with LATCH, can work using a seat belt and, if available, a top tether, following the vehicle owner's manual and child safety seat manufacturer's instructions.

If the vehicle doesn't have a top anchor, contact the manufacturer or dealership to see if you can retrofit it.