D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook, Catch & Release, won the 2012 Robin Becker Prize from Seve...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Jun 9, 2021

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According to the NHTSA, car crashes are the No. 1 killer of children aged one to 12 years old. In hopes of changing this alarming statistic, the week of Sept. 16-22 has been designated as Child Passenger Safety Week to raise awareness. The goal of the program is to ensure that children ride as safely as possible, while also helping to establish a lifelong habit of seatbelt use every time a child travels.

One of the most important things any parent or guardian can do to ensure that their little ones are protected when riding in a car is to ensure that they are in the right car seat. With so many types, models, sizes, and styles of car seats, it can be a daunting task to choose the right one. While you can find out all there is to know about child safety seats on through the NHSTA website, we’re doing our part for Child Passenger Safety Week by providing the finer points on selecting the right safety seat for children of all ages below:

Newborn to One-Year-Old

The NHSTA recommends that all children under the age of one should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. Rear-facing seats are best for young children since they are equipped with a harness and cradle and move with your child in the event of a crash. This reduces the stress on a child’s fragile neck and spinal cord. While there are specific infant-only seats that can only be used in a rear-facing fashion, parents may want to consider a convertible, or all-in-one (3-in-1) seat as the child gets older. These seats typically have higher height and weight limits compared to infant-only seats, and allow parents to keep their children in them for longer periods of time.

One to Three-Year-Olds

Even after infancy, the NHTSA recommends keeping your child in a rear-facing seat as long as possible since it is the best way to keep them safe. The child should remain in a rear-facing seat as long as they do not exceed the height or weight limit allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. This means that even if your child is older than two years of age and still fits in a rear-facing seat, it’s perfectly fine to keep them in that seat. However, once they reach the manufacturer limits, it’s time to move them into a forward-facing car seat with a harness. Forward-facing car seats for children aged one to three use a top tether to limit your child’s forward movement during a crash.

Four to Seven-Year-Olds

Similar to keeping infants and toddlers in rear-facing seats as long as possible, parents should also keep their children in forward-facing car seats with a harness until they reach the height or weight limit set by the car seat’s manufacturer. When that day comes, your child should be moved into a booster seat. Rather than actually providing a structure for the child to ride inside of, booster seats simply re-position your child to ensure that your vehicle’s existing seat belt fits properly over the stronger parts of your child’s body – the torso and waist. Much like other car seats, booster seats should always be used in the back seat.

Eight to 12-Year-Olds

One day, your child will outgrow his or her booster seat. You’ll know that this day has arrived when your child can fit in your vehicle’s existing seat belt system properly. You can check this by ensuring that the lap and shoulder belt fit properly when you child is seated in your vehicle’s existing seats. The lap belt should lie snugly across the upper thighs and never across the stomach, and the shoulder should fit snuggly across your child’s shoulder and chest. The shoulder belt should never be near your child’s neck or face. Lastly, always remember that the back seat is usually the safest place for any child to ride.

Finally, even if you read all the articles you can get your hands on about car seats and buy the most expensive, highest-rated car seat there is, none of it really matters if the seats aren’t installed properly. As part of Child Passenger Safety Week, the NHSTA has designated Saturday, Sept. 22 as National Seat Check Saturday. To make sure your child’s safety seats are being installed and used properly, you can find the location of your nearest safety inspection station at SeatCheck.org, or by calling 1-866-SEAT-CHECK.