Car seats save lives. According to the California Highway Patrol, 80 percent of children under age four who were killed in automobile accidents would have survived had they been properly secured in a child safety seat. Even if you're going only a short distance, all children should be properly secured when traveling in an automobile. California law requires any child younger than eight years old or shorter than 4'9" tall to be properly restrained in an age-, height- and weight-appropriate child car seat or booster seat.
Most car seats require a child to reach the age of one and at least 20 pounds before they can face forward. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all parents keep their child rear-facing until at least age two or until she outgrows the rear-facing limit specified by the manufacturer for her car seat. Rear-facing is five times safer than forward-facing, since the entire body absorbs the impact of the crash, instead of just the head and neck. Some car seats have rear-facing limits as high as 40 or 45 pounds, allowing parents to keep children rear-facing longer. Never use a rear-facing car seat in a seat with an air bag because it can cause severe head trauma to a child, according to the AAP. California law allows an exception for trucks, as long as the airbag can be disabled with a switch. Otherwise, another vehicle must be used to transport the child.
A forward-facing car seat should be used when the child outgrows the rear-facing limits for her seat. A five-point harness secures a child when she is too small to properly fit into a belt-positioning booster seat. Some car seat manufacturers have harness limits that reach as high as 80 pounds, allowing parents to continue to use car seats with harnesses as their child grows.
After a child outgrows the weight limit for the harness on a car seat, it's time to switch to a belt-positioning booster seat. The state of California requires children to remain in a booster seat until they reach eight years old or 80 pounds.Belt-positioning boosters raise a child up off the seat to allow the seat belt to sit properly across the chest and hips, instead of going across the neck and stomach. According to SafetyBeltSafe, using a belt-positioning booster reduces the risk of injury by 45 percent for children that do not fit properly in the seat belt alone.
Seat Installation Tips
Child seats should be installed properly according to the manufacturer's instructions using either the LATCH system or the vehicle's built-in seat belts, but not both. The seat shouldn't move more than one-inch in either direction when properly installed. The harness slots should be beneath the child's shoulders when rear-facing, and above the shoulders when forward-facing. You shouldn't be able to pinch the harness strap vertically between two fingers if it properly tightened.