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Child Safety Seats

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is a child safety seat?

A child safety seat is a padded seat that secures infants and children while they ride in a car. Every child safety seat has age, height, and weight ranges. Keep using the safety seat until your child reaches the maximum of the range. Then he or she is ready for the child safety seat that is the next size up. Continue to follow this pattern until your child can use a seatbelt safely.

Why are child safety seats important?

Child safety seats are made to protect your child against an injury in an accident. Injuries from car accidents are a leading cause of death in children. Injuries and deaths often would be prevented if the child were secured in the appropriate safety seat. Always set a good example for your children by wearing your own seatbelt.

What do I need to know about child safety seats?

You will need to move the child safety seat to any other car your child will be riding in. Follow the instructions for installing and using your specific child safety seat. Directions for one type may not work for another type.

  • Safety seats include rear-facing, forward-facing, convertible, and booster seats. Your infant will start with a rear-facing infant safety seat. He or she will grow into a forward-facing seat. Convertible seats start as rear-facing and can be converted into forward-facing seats when your child is ready. He or she will move to a booster seat over time.
    Child Safety Seat
  • Choose a seat that meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. The seat will have a label stating that it meets this standard. The seat will also state an expiration date. Do not use the seat past this date.
  • Do not use any other type of seat. Only use child safety seats. Do not use a toy chair or prop your child on books or other objects.
  • Make sure the child safety seat has a harness and clip. The harness is made of straps that go over your child's shoulders. The straps connect to a buckle that rests over your child's abdomen. These straps keep your child in the seat during an accident. Another strap comes up from the bottom of the seat and connects to the buckle between your child's legs. This strap keeps your child from slipping out of the seat. Slide the clip up and down the shoulder straps to make them tighter or looser. You should be able to slip a finger between your child and the strap.
  • Do not reuse a child safety seat. Over time, child safety seats become less effective. They may develop cracks or lose parts that are needed for safety. Replace the child safety seat after an accident. Never use a seat given to you after it was in a car that had an accident. You can also check with the manufacturer to see if the seat was recalled.
  • The child safety seat may have a top tether. A tether is a strap at the top of the seat. It connects to the back seat of some cars. This helps keep the seat in place during an accident.

How will I know my child safety seat is properly secured?

The best spot to place your child safety seat is in the middle of the back seat. The safety seat should not move more than 1 inch in any direction after you secure it. If the safety seat is not installed tightly, your child may be injured by the movement in an accident. Always follow the instructions provided to help you position the safety seat. The instructions will also guide you on how to secure your child properly.

When should I use a rear-facing child safety seat?

  • Your infant will ride in only a rear-facing child safety seat. Use it until your child weighs at least 40 pounds or reaches the maximum weight provided by the manufacturer.
  • Secure your child in the rear-facing safety seat in the back seat of your car. It is okay if his or her feet touch the back of the car seat.
  • The seat will be tilted back. This will allow your child's head to rest against the back of the safety seat. Make sure the harness straps are not loose.
  • You can prop rolled towels around your baby to keep him or her from slouching or falling over in the seat.

When should I use a forward-facing child safety seat?

  • Have your child use a forward-facing safety seat that has a harness.
  • Your child must use the forward-facing safety seat until he or she reaches the seat's maximum weight and height.
  • Some forward-facing safety seats convert into booster seats. Your child can continue to use this seat without the harness after he or she outgrows the harness. Your child can use it this way until he or she reaches the maximum weight and height provided by the manufacturer.
  • With our without the harness, your child needs to be secured in the safety seat in the back seat of the car.

When should I use a booster child safety seat?

  • A booster safety seat must be placed only in the back seat.
  • Booster seats come with and without a seat back. Your child will be secured in the booster seat with the regular seatbelt in your car.
  • Your child must use the booster safety seat until he or she is between 8 and 12 years old and 4 foot 9 inches (57 inches) tall. This is when a regular seatbelt should fit your child properly without the booster seat.
  • Your child should use a forward-facing safety seat if you only have a lap belt seatbelt in your car. Some forward-facing safety seats hold children who weigh more than 40 pounds. The harness on the forward-facing safety seat will keep your child safer and more secure than a lap belt and booster seat.

How will I know if a seatbelt fits my child properly?

  • Seatbelt use is necessary when your child is in a booster seat or after he or she reaches 4 foot 9 inches tall.
  • The lap belt portion of the seatbelt must lie snuggly across your child's hips and pelvis. The lap belt should not be across your child's stomach. The shoulder belt must fit across your child's shoulder and the middle of his or her chest. The shoulder belt should never cross your child's neck or face.
  • Your child needs to sit with his or her back straight up against the seat and his or her knees bent at the seat's edge. He or she is at risk for serious stomach, back, and neck injuries if the seatbelt does not fit him or her correctly.

Is it safe for my child to ride in the front seat?

Children younger than 13 years should always ride in the back seat. Never let a child younger than 13 years or still in a safety seat ride in the front seat of a car that has a passenger side airbag. The force of an airbag can cause serious or deadly injury to your child. This is especially important for infants in a rear-facing safety seat. Ask for more information about airbag injuries and how to prevent them.

What kind of child safety seat should I use for a child with special needs?

Children with physical or developmental problems may need specially made child safety seats. For information about how to secure your special needs child safely, contact the following:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    345 Park Boulevard
    Itasca , IL 60143
    Phone: 1- 800 - 433-9016
    Web Address:
  • Automotive Safety Program
    1130 West Michigan Street, Fesler Hall Room 207
    Indianapolis , IN 46202
    Phone: 1- 317 - 274-2977
    Phone: 1- 800 - 543-6227
    Web Address:

Further information

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington , DC 20590
    Phone: 1- 888 - 327-4236
    Web Address:
  • National SAFE KIDS Campaign
    1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 400
    Washington , DC 20037
    Phone: 1- 202 - 662-0600
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan how your child's safety and care. Learn everything you can about child safety seats and how to use them properly. Work with your child's healthcare provider to understand how your child can stay safe while he or she rides in a car.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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