Car Seat Safety: Toddlers

Car safety tips for toddlers

While using any restraint is better than none, young children can be badly injured in a crash if placed only in a seat belt rather than a child safety seat or belt-positioning booster seat. Watch the following video for tips on when and how to use a forward-facing child safety seat, and which one is appropriate for your toddler.

Please follow these general car seat safety tips and guidelines:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 who have outgrown the weight or height limits for their rear-facing safety seat, be restrained — in the back seat of the car — in a forward-facing safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the safety seat.
  • If you have been using an infant-only child safety seat, you will need a new seat. If you have been using a convertible child safety seat in the rear-facing position, you can still use it but will need to make a few adjustments to the shoulder straps, and re-route the vehicle seat belt or LATCH properly for it to be used forward-facing. Be sure to read your child's safety seat manual to learn what changes need to be made when switching the seat from rear-facing to forward-facing.
  • The shoulder straps must be threaded through slots that are at or just above your child’s shoulders. The harness must be snug so you cannot pinch a fold in the harness material after buckling in your child. The straps should lie flat in a straight line without sagging or twisting. The top of the chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.
  • You can further optimize the safety of your forward-facing car seat by using its top tether strap located at the top of the seat. Attach the seat's top tether strap to the correct anchor point in the vehicle. Pull to tighten. Check your car owner's manual to identify the correct anchor point.
  • You know your child is getting too tall for his forward-facing car seat when the top of his ears reach the top of the seat.
  • Switch to a booster seat when your child reaches the weight or height limit of the forward-facing child safety seat, as he is still too small to fit properly in a vehicle safety belt.

Types of forward-facing child safety seats

Convertible safety seat

A convertible child safety seat can be used in both the rear-facing and forward-facing positions. Convertible car seats must remain rear-facing until your child is 2 years of age or until he reaches the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of his convertible safety seat.

When you switch a convertible safety seat from the rear-facing to the forward-facing position, it can be used for a toddler up to 40 to 65 pounds (some seats accommodate up to 80 pounds) depending on the seat model. Check your child safety seat manual or seat label for height and weight limits.

Combination child seat and belt-positioning booster seat

You can use this combination seat with the internal harness until your toddler weighs about 40 to 65 pounds, depending on the seat model. You can then remove the harness and convert the seat to a belt-positioning booster that works with the vehicle lap and shoulder belts. For the best protection, use a child safety seat with a full harness until your child has outgrown the weight and height limits before switching to a booster seat.

Travel vest

These vests can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and offer an alternative to traditional forward-facing child safety seats. They are useful when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear seats, or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by the child safety seats. These vests may require use of a top tether.

Built-in child seat

Some vehicles have forward-facing child safety seats integrated into their rear seats. Many of these seats have a five-point harness system. Some built-in seats convert to belt-positioning booster seats for older children once the internal harness is completely outgrown. The height and weight limits vary by car model so be sure to check your car owner's manual for this information.

A wide variety of car safety products, including convertible and booster seats, are sold at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Safety Center. For more information about specific car seat models currently available, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website.

Child safety seat registration card

Don't forget to mail back the registration card. If you don't, you will not be notified if the child safety seat is recalled or has other safety problems.

If you moved since you mailed the card, make sure you call your child safety seat manufacturer to update your address.

If you misplaced the registration card that came with your car seat, please download and complete this form and mail or fax it as instructed.