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A parent's guide to car seats

If you have any questions or would like more information, please call 317-355-SEAT to speak with our child passenger safety technicians and remember that BUCKLED IS BEST!

General information

  • Over 85% of all car seats are used incorrectly which could result in the injury or death of a child. Most car seats that are used incorrectly have more than one error.
  • All children should ride in a car seat (infant, convertible, combination or booster seat) until they are too tall or reach the weight limits of a booster seat, usually about 4'8" tall and 80 to 100 pounds. Indiana State Law requires that all children ride in a car seat or booster until they reach their 8th birthday.
  • Children should ride in the back seat of a vehicle until they are 12 years old. Mothers are FOUR times more likely than fathers to let kids 6 and younger sit in the front seat!
  • Use airbags with caution. Follow vehicle manufacturer’s directions for side air bags or curtains and NEVER place a rear-facing infant seat in the path of a frontal airbag. If an older child must sit in the front seat, move the vehicle seat back as far as possible from the dash and make sure the child is properly restrained.

Choosing car seats

  • The BEST car seat is one that fits the child and vehicle and is easy for the parent to use on every ride. New car seats are best to use. Car seats over 6 years old should not be used. Car seats should not be used if they have been in a serious crash. Second-hand car seats should not be used if the parent doesn’t know the history of the seat, if the labels are torn off the seat, or if the harness, belts, clips, or pads are missing. If unsure, do not use the car seat!
  • “Add-on’s” (additional head rolls, harness wraps, covers, pads, fleece liners, seat belt tighteners, window shades) that have not come with the car seat or in the vehicle should be used with caution. Crash testing required for vehicles and car seats must meet strict federal requirements. Add-on items are not crash-tested and it is uncertain how they would perform in an actual crash situation.
  • The first thing to do when you take the car seat out of the box is READ the instruction booklet that comes with the car seat! There is a special place under the car seat for storing the booklet, so when you are finished, store the booklet where it will be easy to find for future use. Next, get your vehicle owner’s manual out of the car or truck and keep it handy when you are ready to install the car seat.
  • Find the label on the car seat that has the model number and date of manufacture of the car seat. There is also a registration card on the car seat with this information. The card should be filled out NOW and mailed. In case of a recall, the manufacturer will notify you.

Using car seats

Infant Seats

  • Infants should ride facing the back window of the vehicle (rear-facing) as long as possible until the bones of the back and neck (vertebra) are strong and can support the spinal cord in a crash (usually months AFTER the first birthday. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping babies rear-facing until they reach the maximum rear-facing requirements in their convertible car seat. Head and neck muscle control will not prevent injury or death if the baby is turned around too soon.
  • The harness straps should be AT or BELOW the baby’s shoulders. They should lie snug and flat against the baby’s body and be tight enough that you can’t “tuck” or “pinch” excess harness between your fingers over the baby’s shoulders. The harness clip should be fastened correctly and be placed over the baby’s chest at armpit or nipple level. Always keep the harness on the baby when s/he is in the car seat, even when using the seat as a carrier or in a stroller.
  • Infant seats usually have a carrying handle. Note in the instruction booklet the correct position of the handle when used in the vehicle.

    BASE-ic FACTS

  • If your infant seat comes with a base, you may be able to use the car seat without the base, but check the instructions to be sure. If you have two vehicles you can get a second, matching base for one and use the infant seat with either base. Infants should ride leaning back at about a 45-degree angle to keep the head from falling forward and interfering with their breathing. Some infant seats come with an adjustable base to do this. Check the instructions, or use a rolled towel, newspaper or foam “pool noodle” to adjust the correct angle.
  • Infant seats are for babies up to 20 pounds or more. Babies have outgrown this car seat when they reach EITHER the weight or height requirements for the seat. The next size seat is called a convertible car seat.

    Convertible Car Seats

  • Convertible car seats may be used rear-facing for babies and then turned forward when the baby reaches the rear-facing weight limit (usually 30-35 pounds). Convertible seats with a “5-point harness” fit babies better that those with a large shield in front.
  • Convertible car seats usually have different harness positions, belt paths, and upright/reclined criteria depending on whether the car seat is being used rear or forward facing, so be sure to check the instructions for correct installations. When used rear-facing, the same principles apply as for infant seats (i.e. harness at or below the shoulders, 45 degree reclined angle), but for forward-facing the harness should be AT or ABOVE the child’s shoulders and the seat usually in a more upright position. You will also use a different “belt path” for forward facing seats.
  • A top belt attached behind the car seat and anchored to the back of the vehicle seat or the floor should be used to TETHER forward-facing car seats. Check vehicle instructions for the correct anchor points. The top tether adds additional stability to the car seat.
  • Convertible car seats usually fit children up to about 40 pounds or more. Follow recommendations on the labels. When they have met EITHER the weight or height requirements, the next seat available is called a “combination booster seat.”

    Combination Booster Seats

  • “Combo” seats are only used forward-facing. They come with a 5-point harness up to a weight of 40 pounds or more and a high back for head support. Some of the newer “combo” seats have upper weight limits of 65 pounds with the harness. Check seat labels for specifics of weight and height.
  • Usually when the child reaches the harness limits, the harness can be removed from the seat and it can then be used as a “belt-positioning booster” with weight limits of 80-100 pounds. These seats are good for young, energetic, bigger kids that need the harness to remind them to stay in position.

    Belt-Positioning Booster Seats

  • Belt-positioning Boosters come in many styles and models with various height and weight requirements. Whether on not you need a “high-back” or “backless” booster depends on your vehicle. If you do not have headrests or a high back on the vehicle seat, you should get a “high-back booster” so that your child has head support when sitting on the booster. You must always use a lap/shoulder belt over a booster for upper body protection. DO NOT USE A BOOSTER WITH ONLY A LAP BELT! The shoulder belt should fit comfortably across the child’s shoulder and not rub the neck. The lap portion should ride over the child’s thighs and be snug across their lap. Parents should make sure children do not put the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the back to prevent abdominal, neck and spinal cord injuries.

    I'm Big Enough...

  • Children are “big enough” to sit on the vehicle seat without the booster when their back is flat against the vehicle seat, their knees bend at the edge of the vehicle seat, and their feet are on the floor and the lap/shoulder belt fits comfortably across their shoulder and lap. Although Indiana law states the child must be 8 years old, for maximum safety, encourage your child to use the booster until the weight requirements of the booster are met, or the child’s height makes them too tall for sitting on the booster.
  • Special “sleeves” that are supposed to help position shoulder/lap belts for older children are not government regulated or tested and can prevent vehicle seat belts from working properly in a crash. Do not use them.

    Installing Car Seats

  • There are two methods used to install a car seat. Do not use both at the same time! Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual to see what your options are.

    Using L.A.T.C.H. (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children)

  • Vehicles made since 2003 will have heavy metal brackets (LATCH anchors) in the vehicle seat bight (crease). There may be small buttons on the vehicle seat back to indicate where the brackets are. Most vehicles only have two sets of LATCH anchors located for the outboard seats behind the driver and passenger seats. Read the vehicle owner’s manual to see if there are anchors for the center or if you can use the inside anchors for the center. (You may still be able to install the car seat in the center with the lap/shoulder belt if you do not have center LATCH anchors.) Car seats should have an extra belt with hooks or connectors on either end to attach to the LATCH anchors. (See instructions.) You cannot hook two car seats to the same LATCH anchor.

    Using Vehicle Seatbelts

  • Vehicles made since 1995 will have either a locking mechanism in the latch-plate (part of the seat belt that buckles) or a retracting mechanism in the shoulder belt to lock the seatbelts around the car seat. Older cars may need the metal “Locking Clip” that comes with the car seat. Seek assistance from a certified inspector if you do not understand how to use them if the seatbelts won’t stay locked around the car seat.

    OK, 1, 2, 3, 4

  • *Place the car seat on the vehicle seat facing the appropriate direction.
  • *Route the LATCH belts or vehicle seat belts through the car seat, using the right “belt-path.”
  • *Attach the LATCH hooks to the LATCH anchors (hooks “down”) or attach the seatbelt to the latch-plate. Make sure to “lock” the shoulder belt if necessary.
  • *Put your body weight into the car seat as you tighten the belts. Pull as tight as possible to anchor the car seat.
  • Check for snug installation by placing your hands on either side of the car seat where the belts attach it to the vehicle and try to move the car seat side to side. It should not move more than one inch (less is better!). If the car seat does move more than one inch, or it gradually loosens, read the directions again, or consult an expert.
  • There ARE some vehicles and some car seats that are incompatible when used together. Vehicle belt systems, contour of vehicle seats, belt paths on car seats, distance between seatbelts or LATCH anchors, position car seat must be used, and other factors may affect the safe installation of car seats.
  • The center of the back seat is considered to be the safest location for installing a car seat, however, some vehicles are not designed to use a car seat in this position. If you have more than one child, you will have to consider where to place the car seats. Consult the experts if you have questions.

    Other things to consider when transporting children...

  • Babies and small children should ride in car seats when traveling by air. Many car seats are approved for use in aircraft and can prevent injury in the event of sudden unexpected motion of the airplane. Besides, all 50 states require the use of car seats and if used in the plane, will be available to use in the car when you reach your destination.
  • Special car seats and restraints are available for children with certain medical and emotional needs. Preemie car seats, car beds, equipment to restrain children in body casts, and vests for children with emotional needs are available. Seek assistance if you are ever in need of these things.
  • Adults are in charge of the children in the car. Teach by example and always wear seatbelts. There should be a seatbelt for every passenger in the car.

Resources

  • Resources and information about car seat safety are available on the Internet at nhtsa.dot.gov, safekids.org, and www.preventinjury.org.
  • Some car seat manufacturers are the following: Century/Graco (800-837-4044), Dorel/Cosco (800-544-1108), Evenflo (800-233-5921).
  • Free car seat inspections are available by calling 1-800-777-7775 or you may register online at www.eCommunity.com.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please call 317-355-SEAT to speak with our child passenger safety technicians and remember that BUCKLED IS BEST!

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