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    A Guide to Child Safety Seats

A few tips to help install your child’s safety seat.   

Rich Diegle
Automotive Technical Editor

After an accident is not the time to find out that your child’s safety seat was improperly installed, broken, or part of a manufacturer’s recall. Here are valuable tips compiled from industry experts to help you do the best job of installing your child’s safety seat.i

  1. Rear-facing child-safety seats (5-20 lbs) should be tilted at a 45-degree angle so your infant’s head won’t tip forward, which can obstruct breathing. Check the seat’s installation instructions and your vehicle’s owner’s manual for advice on ensuring the correct angle.
  2. Do not install a rear-facing seat in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger-side airbag. The force of the deploying airbag can seriously injure or kill an infant. Never install a rear-facing child seat in a forward-facing position.
  3. Experts suggest pushing down firmly with your knee on the child-safety seat as you lock it in place with the seatbelt. This helps duplicate your child’s weight and will ensure the tightest possible fit.
  4. Strap your child into the seat before wrapping around a blanket or quilt. Bundling up your child first can leave the harness straps too loose.
  5. There should always be a harness retainer clip in place to keep the straps from twisting. This clip should be at armpit level. Refer to your instructions manual, or call the company’s customer service number if you need replacement parts for your seat.
  6. Make sure the harness is snug - you should be able to fit just one finger between the harness and your child’s collarbone. In a rear-facing seat, the harness straps should come through the lower slots at or below the infant’s shoulders; in the front-facing position, the straps should come through the top slots, above the child’s shoulders. If at all possible, install a rear-facing or front-facing child safety seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
  7. Test the installation by trying to move the child-safety seat. A rear-facing seat should remain at the same angle even when you push down on the top; a front-facing seat should move no more than an inch toward the front of the car or from side-to-side. Make sure there is no slack in the lap portion of the seat belt.
  8. If you are using a convertible (front or rear facing) seat (5-40 lbs) for an infant, choose one without a guard. Shields often do not fit newborns properly and interfere with proper adjustment of the harness.
  9. If you are using a belt-positioning booster (30-80 lbs), make sure that the shoulder portion of the belt fits comfortably across your child’s shoulder and the center of the chest and doesn’t wrap around the neck. The lap portion should fit across your child’s hips or upper thighs, not around the abdomen. A young passenger is ready for an adult-safety belt when the belt fits properly without any booster seat and the child can sit all the way back, with his or her knees bending comfortably at the edge of the seat.
  10. A tether strap can help make the installation more secure. If your vehicle and/or seat were purchased prior to new federal regulations, which went into effect on September 1, 2002, you might still be able to retrofit them with tether hardware.
  11. If your vehicle requires the use of a locking-clip - either because your seatbelts do not lock automatically or lack switch type retractors to lock the belts - the clip should be placed no more than one inch from the belt buckle. NOTE: Never use a locking-clip on a belt-positioning booster seat.

Remember: All children age 12 or under should ride in the back seat!

i The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov, The National Safety Council - http://www.nsc.org,
The American Automobile Association - http://www.aaa.com.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal or professional advice.