your guide to child safety seats
As a new parent, choosing the right car seat is one of the most important decisions you'll make for your child's safety. But the sheer number of car seats on the market can make your decision overwhelming. We'll explain what you need to know to find the right car seat to keep your kid safe and your mind at ease.
The car seat: a safety necessity
Just how important are child car seats? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they reduce the risk of a car crash fatality by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers.
In addition to making good safety sense, child restraint devices are required by law. Every state has some form of child restraint law. The penalties for breaking these laws vary, with some states fining drivers $25 to $50 for a first offense and others, like Nevada, going as high as $500.
Find laws in your state through the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The many types of child car seats
Children need car seats starting with their very first ride in your vehicle. That means you'll need to have yours installed by the time you leave the hospital with your little bundle of joy. When choosing the right model, select one that fits in your car and pay attention to the age, height, and weight guidelines.
Here are some common options you'll have as your little tyke grows.
Infant car safety seats
Also known as baby car seats, infant safety seats are rear-facing only. Designed for the first stage of a child's life, they can sometimes accommodate children up to 35 pounds, come with carrying handles, and can work with stroller systems. If your baby has any special needs (like low birth weight), custom car seats are available.
Convertible car safety seats
According to Consumer Reports, children are safest in a rear-facing seat until age 2. So if your little one has outgrown the infant seat but still belongs in a rear-facing model, the convertible car seat is a perfect next step.
These are especially convenient because they can face either backward or forward. So when your child is old enough to face forward, you can simply flip the seat around and avoid the hassle and expense of buying a new one.
Use booster seats when your child has outgrown the need for a harness but is still too small to fit naturally in an adult seat belt. Booster seats work by elevating your child so the seat belt fits snugly over the thighs and shoulder (rather than the stomach and face). Like all child car seats, boosters belong in the backseat only. Safercar.gov recommends kids use a booster seat until roughly age 12.
3-in-1 child safety seats
An even more versatile option than convertible seats, 3-in-1 seats can convert from a rear-facing infant seat to a rear- or front-facing toddler seat and finally to a booster seat. They typically have high weight and height limits, allowing your tyke to stay rear-facing for as long as possible.
After they've hit the rear-facing height and weight limits, kids should ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until roughly age 7 to limit their forward movement in a crash. Once your child surpasses that seat's height and weight limits, you're ready for the next stage.
Built-in child safety seats
Built-in child safety seats are available in some vehicles. If you decide to go this route, make sure you check with the car's manufacturer on weight and height limits. While convenient, built-in seats often cost more than removable ones. And you might still need a separate child safety seat so your little one can travel in other cars should the need arise.
Installing your child seat: the LATCH system
Shockingly, 3 out of 4 child safety seats aren't installed correctly and thus aren't fully protecting their occupants, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A big help to parents is the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. Built into almost every child seat and vehicle made since September of 2002, the LATCH system uses interlocking clips (or anchors) to connect your child's seat to the car itself.
Securing your child's safety seat
After you settle on the right car seat, consider having an expert inspect it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can help you pinpoint a free inspection location near you.
Now that you're armed with lots of knowledge about keeping your new family member safe in the car, the links below can help you find models that will fit your specific needs. And when you're done with that, you can find out how having kids can impact your auto insurance.
NHTSA safety reviews for car seats
Read the NHTSA safety reviews of the most popular child safety seats on the market.
Learn more about LATCH
Find out how to use the LATCH system and learn more about its benefits.
3 child car seat tips
Head to our blog for even more sage advice on your little one's safety.