Age Requirements for Car Seats

By Lynne Haley Rose
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From that first trip home from the hospital until your child is in elementary school, strapping her into a car seat should become second nature. Infant and child car seat mandates are regulated on a state-by-state basis, but as a responsible parent you can err on the side of safety by using the uppermost limits for age and weight, providing the safest environment possible for your precious cargo.

Infant Seat Age Requirement

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Infants from birth to age one must ride in an approved rear-facing car seats, according to every state that has established car seat guidelines. Since babies vary in size, a weight limit of 20 pounds is the corresponding guideline for infants riding in rear-facing seats. You must secure the seat in the center back seat of your vehicle, and you should adjust the angle in such a way that your newborn's head does not fall forward. Until the baby is able to hold his head up on his own, supplement the car seat with a head support accessory. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions on securing the seat, and have it ready to go before it is time to bring your baby home.

Forward-Facing Car Seat Age Requirements

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When your child has topped 20 pounds and/or one year, she can ride in a forward-facing car seat. Of the states establishing guidelines, Florida has the youngest age limit of 3 for securing your child in a forward-facing car seat. Several states mandate the highest age limit of 8 years old. Other states fall somewhere in between these age extremes. The weight guideline for children who must be secured in a car seat varies as well, from 40 to 80 pounds. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers continue to use forward-facing car seats with harnesses at least until they enter grade school, or until they outgrow the seat. The safest location for a toddler car seat is in the center back seat of the car; you should never position your child's car seat in front due to the danger of airbag injury.

Booster Car Seat Age Requirements

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Many states have not mandated an age limit for the use of a car booster seat for your child, but those that have require one for children anywhere from ages 4 through 8. A booster seat is less restrictive and easier for your son or daughter to get into and out of independently, yet it still provides the lift necessary to position each child correctly for optimum car riding safety. As a parent, you should make the final judgment based on whether your child is tall enough to ride comfortably with only a shoulder/lap belt combination. Often this occurs by the time a child is 8 years old, weighs 80 pounds, or is around 57 inches tall.

Be Aware of Current Laws and Regulations

Always check with your state authorities as to the current child-safety regulations, if you have any doubts, and to make sure that you are aware of any laws that might have changed. If you move to another state, be sure find out what the regulations are, as they vary from state to state. In addition, stay up to date with any new guidance that is issued by the manufacturer of your child's seat.