While each state follows recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, their enforced laws on car seats vary widely. A few states, including Pennsylvania, provide programs for car seat loans and fitting stations to help you check the safety of your child's seat. As part of a campaign for safer travel, Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation protects its tiniest citizens with stringent car seat requirements.
Babies up to 1 year or 20 pounds are required to ride in rear-facing child safety seats with a base locked into the seat belt. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation notes that the AAP recommends that infants stay in that position until 2 years old or 35 pounds for safety reasons. To be safe, check that the harness belts come out of the seat at your infant’s shoulder level and fastens around the middle of his chest. Make sure to secure the car seat base correctly to the seat belt; it should not be able to budge more than 1 inch. Many car seats have levelers to help you check if it is in the right position since your baby’s head should not be able to flop forward.
Legally, children at least 1 year old can use a convertible front-facing seat that sits upright, providing neck support and cushioned arm rests. Newer models have a five-point harness, while older seats have a padded chest-height bar and buckle that come down over the child’s head. Regardless of the model, ensure the seat is still latched into the car back with a tether strap. See your car seat’s instructions for how to appropriately connect it to the hook hidden in the back seat. All cars manufactured since 2000 have hidden tether anchors. If you can’t find yours, check your owner's manual. After age 4, your child can transition to a booster seat.
From the ages of 4 to 8, children are required to use high back or backless booster seats. Pennsylvania law dictates that the seat must be placed in a car seat location that provides a shoulder harness -- ideally hitting the middle of your child’s chest. Some booster seats include a plastic clip guide to correctly position the seat belt. Pennsylvania law suggests that children younger than 12 years of age should ride in the back seat because most collisions affect the front seats.
As a safety precaution, ensure that your car seat is not old or recalled. When in doubt, check SaferCar.gov for more information. Beyond the legal requirements, pediatricians recommend following precautions that exceed minimum standards. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests using a booster until a child reaches 4 feet 9 inches tall, a height most children hit somewhere between 8 and 12. For a quick safety clue, note whether your child’s ears hit the top of the back seat.