Car seats and booster seats protect children from becoming seriously injured during routine driving and auto accidents. All children should sit in the back seat of the car to avoid death from a deployed airbag. Keep in mind that some requirements may vary from state to state; for a sample listing of requirements for your state, see Resources.
Rear-Facing Car Seat
Infants and babies must sit in rear-facing car seats until they are 1 year old and weigh 20 pounds. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA) suggests that parents consult their car seat user manual for exact instructions on how to install the seat and strap in the child. Keep in mind that most safety seats list both an age and weight requirement, which parents or caregivers should take into account. Larger babies may exceed the 20-pound limit, but their neck muscles may not be developed enough to withstand a car crash while facing forward.
Forward-Facing Car Seat
Toddlers weighing between 20 and 40 pounds should sit in forward-facing car seats until they reach the specific weight restrictions set by the manufacturer. Most manufacturers recommend that children remain in forward-facing seats until they reach 4 years of age and 40 pounds.
Booster seats are mostly for children ages 4 and up who need to be elevated in the seat in order for the seatbelt strap to lie across the correct area of the chest and upper thighs. According to the NTSA, children should normally remain in a booster seat until they reach 4 feet, 9 inches tall and 80 pounds. Although many states do not require children to sit in boosters past the age of 8, an 8-year-old child may not be tall or heavy enough to give up the booster seat. Parents or caregivers should factor in the child’s height and weight when determining if he is old enough to sit in a regular seat.
Once a child is taller than 4 feet, 9 inches and weighs more than 80 pounds, he should be able to sit in a regular seat of a car without the need of a booster seat. Keep in mind that the shoulder strap should lie flat across the chest, without hitting the neck, and should lie nicely across the upper thighs. Smaller children may need an added accessory such as a seat belt adjuster, which adjusts where the strap hits the child.