Car Seat Safety By Age: Toddlers in Forward-facing Seats

Children 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 who have outgrown their rear-facing safety seat must be restrained in a forward-facing safety seat. Learn how to properly install a forward-facing car seat and restrain your child.


Car Seat Safety By Age: Toddlers in Forward-facing Seats

Narrator: In the United States nearly 300 children ages 1 through 3 are killed in auto crashes every year. That's the bad news. Now, here is the good news: research has shown that a properly installed child safety seat can dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury to children in the event of a crash. 

When a crash occurs a child will continue to move at the same speed as the vehicle until hitting something which slows him down. If he is not properly restrained, he may suffer death or serious injury. However, a properly restrained toddler will be held in place and come to a more gradual stop with the vehicle and usually avoid serious injury. 

Safety experts recommend that children stay rear-facing until they are 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight and height allowed by the manufacturer of their child safety seat. If your child is over age 1, continue to use a rear-facing safety seat to the maximum weight or height for the car seat. Just be sure your child's head is one inch below the top of the safety seat's back. If your child has reached the maximum weight or height for his infant car seat, use a convertible child safety seat that has a higher rear-facing weight limit. Children who are turned forward facing too soon are more likely to be injured in a crash. Remember, toddlers over age 1 can stay rear-facing until they reach the maximum weight or height of the car seat. 

When your child is ready to move to sit facing-forward, you have several options. The first is the convertible safety seat. When forward-facing, this seat can be used up until your child reaches the maximum weight or height of the car seat. Always look at the labels on your car seat to find the maximum weight and height allowed. Some car seats go up to 65 pounds or more, like this one. 

Next, is the combination child seat which is a booster seat that comes with an internal harness. These are used with the seat's internal harness until your child reaches the maximum height or weight for the harness, which is usually 40 pounds and then it converts to a belt-positioning booster. Just like the convertible car seat, the harness should be used until the maximum weight or height allowed. The harness is removed and the booster seat is used with the vehicle's lap and shoulder belt. We encourage parents to use a car seat with a full harness as long as possible. 

Finally, some vehicles have built-in child seats with a harness, but they are not very common. They may be used for children who are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. Some also convert to belt-positioning booster seats for older children once the internal harness is outgrown. Check your vehicle owner's manual for weight and height information. 

Children should always be secured in the back seat of any vehicle particularly if it has active, frontal air bags which can seriously injure a child. Your child is safest in the back seat where you can tightly install the car seat. Tracey Hewitt is a Child Passenger Safety Technician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Tracey Hewitt : Unfortunately, many car seats are installed incorrectly. And simple mistakes like these can be fatal for kids.

Narrator : You should always check your vehicle owner's manual and your safety seat instructions for specific information on correctly installing your car seat, but here's some general rules to follow:

When turning a safety seat from rear- to forward-facing, most harnesses must be re-threaded or re-adjusted. The best time to change the harness settings for your child is before you install the child seat in your car. When forward-facing, the straps should always be at or above your child's shoulders. In some seats, the top slots are the only correct slots to use for forward-facing children. Some allow the use of other slots as long as the harness is at or above your child's shoulders. It is very important to read the car seat manual for specific instructions about your car seat. When your child's shoulders are above the top slots or the top of his ears reach the top of the car seat, your child has outgrown the seat and needs a larger safety seat or may be ready for a belt-positioning booster seat. 

Buckle the harness and tighten the straps. The harness straps are tight enough when you cannot pinch a fold in the harness at the child's shoulders. The harness retainer clip which should be at armpit level helps to hold the harness straps on your child's shoulders. Now you are ready to install the safety seat into your vehicle. 

A loosely installed seat is one of the most common mistakes parents make. First, pull the seat belt out. Then, carefully thread it through the forward-facing belt path of your child's safety seat. Check your car seat manual to be sure you're using the correct belt path for a forward-facing position. And check your vehicle manual to make sure that you have locked the belt correctly. To ensure a tight fit, use your upper body's weight to push the seat down and back while you feed the belt back into its retractor. The seat belt should be tight and locked to make sure it stays tight. Many vehicles have built-in locking mechanisms within the seat belt system. Seat belts normally lock at the latch plate or in the retractor. To lock this seat belt, you must pull the belt all the way out to switch it over to a locked position. 

Forward-facing seats have the added security of the tether system. A tether strap attaches the top of the car seat to special tether anchors in your vehicle. It helps to keep your child's head from moving too far forward in a crash. When you hold the car seat at the belt path, the seat should not move more than an inch from side to side or toward the front of your vehicle. Some vehicles manufactured before 1997 may require the use of a locking clip to lock the seat belt. Be sure to read your vehicle owner's manual to learn how to use your seat belt correctly with a child safety seat. 

Cars made since 2002 have an attachment system called LATCH which makes it possible to install safety seats without using the seat belt. 

For more good advice on kids and cars, look for a certified car seat technician in your area. You may find a free child safety seat checkpoint or car seat check at a local hospital, police or fire department or state highway safety office. And remember, crashes happen, but with proper precautions, serious injuries don't have to.

This presentation was created by the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Related Centers and Programs: Car Seat Safety for Kids