Car seat safety is high on the list of new-parent worries.
When Britain’s Prince George was born, his father, Prince William, expressed concern that he would install his car seat incorrectly. On a recent trip to New Zealand, the prince and Duchess of Cambridge came under fire from car seat safety advocates, who claimed that Prince George’s car seat was turned the wrong way. (The car seat maker insists it was correct.)
Even if you aren’t buckling in the future king, knowing the rules and guidelines for car seat safety is important — but mystifying. We chatted with Cars.com expert moms Kristin Varela and Jennifer Newman at the recent Family Car Advice event in the Fort Worth Stockyards to clear up some car seat confusion.
What are the laws regarding car seats?
Varela: The laws themselves vary from state to state. So that can be tricky, but one overriding piece is to know what the best practices are nationwide.
Which overall guidelines do you recommend?
Varela: Parents want to make sure their child is rear-facing up to 2 years old. That’s a big change from the old recommendation.
Newman: First of all, make sure that you read your car seat owner’s manual and know what the limits are. Then revisit that as your child continues to grow.
When is it safe for a child to sit forward facing?
Newman: They start in a rear-facing seat and grow so much in those first two years that they can move to a rear-facing convertible seat. When they start to outgrow that, the convertible can be flipped into the forward-facing mode. Depending on the model, they can stay there until 45, 55 or even 65 pounds.
Varela: And then, of course, from there, they move to the booster seat.
What about booster seats for older kids? How do you know it’s time to make the switch from there?
Newman: The very most basic rule is that that child needs to be in a booster until they are 4-feet, 9-inches tall.
Varela: And even though their height might be 4 feet, 9 inches, that size can look really different on different kids. The litmus test, so to speak, is that the child is sitting with their back all the way up against the back seat and their knees bend over the front edge. Their feet should sit flat on the floor and the seat belt buckle should cross on their hips and on their shoulder, as opposed to their neck. So it can even be different from one car to the next.
How do parents choose the right car seat with so many options on the market?
Newman: There are some stores that will allow you to take their model car seat out of the store and actually try them in your vehicle to make sure it will actually fit in the car.
Varela: We really recommend that people find a car seat technician — fire departments, police departments. On www.Safercar.gov you can put in your ZIP code and it will recommend different stations for you to go to. Those car seat technicians will teach you how to install your specific seat in your specific car.
How does the model of your vehicle make a difference in your car seat?
Varela: There are actually a few car manufacturers that will test various car seats in their cars. I know Nissan-Infinity has a list of their cars and the car seat that they say work well with their cars.
Newman: It would be great if more car manufacturers did that. Of course cars and car seats are changing all the time though. So it’s really just a bit of trial-and-error.
Varela: You can go to www.cars.com/family and we have a lot of tips and tricks and advice. We have the most-often-seen mistakes when installing a child safety seat and some other great resources.
Once your child is in that front-facing seat or booster, a lot of kids are learning to buckle themselves. What do you do about a child who unbuckles while you’re driving?
Newman: I think that’s really tough. I actually had that problem with my older son. The minute he unbuckled and I could see movement, I immediately pulled over. He got a stern lecture and it only took a few times of pulling over before it stopped.
Varela: When they are buckling themselves in, one thing to think about is that you’ve got the main buckle and the harness strap. That harness really needs to be at the armpit level. If they’re managing that themselves, you as a parent need to come back and make sure everything looks right in the proper position.
Newman: It’s really a maturity factor. In addition to the proper fit, it can be another measurement tool for whether to move to a booster.
What’s the single most important car seat safety tip you would give to a new parent?
Varela: My biggest tip is to find the resources that are going to help you. Find a car seat technician and have them educate you. Develop a relationship so you can come back to that technician over the course of 11 years or so.
Newman: I think it’s important for parents to know, too, that going to a car seat technician doesn’t cost anything. It’s a resource that’s there for you to use, and they are passionate about it. It’s free and it’s there for everyone.