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 event of a crash, a child who was properly restrained in a car seat will be held in place and come to a more gradual stop with the vehicle, which dramatically reduces the risk of serious injury. If you're in a crash with a child who was not properly restrained, the child will continue to move at the same speed as the vehicle, until hitting something which slows them down.

If the child is not properly restrained, death or serious injury could occur. Safety experts recommend children stay rear facing until they reach the maximum height or weight allowed by the car seat. Most children won't reach those limits until they are two years old or more. Children who are turned forward facing too soon are more likely to be injured in a crash.

In some states, the law requires that children ride rear-facing until at least age two. Always check your car seat manual for maximum weight and height guidelines and refer to the Governor's Highway Safety Association for updated child passenger safety laws in your state. When your child is ready to ride facing the front of the car, you have several options. When front-facing, these seats 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 seats convert to a belt positioning booster seat when the maximum height or weight limits are reached for the internal harness. The harness is removed when your child is older and ready to use a booster seat with the vehicle's lap and shoulder belt.

We encourage parents to use a car seat with a full five point harness as long as possible. 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 are some general rules to follow. When turning a safety seat from rear to forward-facing, most harnesses must be adjusted.

The best time to change the hardness settings 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. Let's move on to installing the car seat. You will need your vehicle owner's manual and car seat manual. To strap the seat in, you can use the vehicle seat belt or the LATCH system, otherwise known as lower anchors and tethers for children. Both methods are safe. Not every vehicle seating position has LATCH. Check your vehicle owner's manual for more information. First, we're going to show you how to install the car seat using a seat belt. First, check your car seat manual and look for the label on the side of the car seat to be sure you're using the correct belt path for a forward facing position.

Then pull the seat belt out and carefully thread it through the forward facing belt path of your car seat. Buckle the seat belt and make sure it doesn't have any twists. Check your vehicle owner's manual to learn how to lock your seat belt. For the seat belt in this car, slowly pull the belt all the way out of the retractor.

This switches the seat belt to a locked mode. The seat belt in your vehicle might be different. Forward facing seats have the added security of a tether. A tether attaches the top of the car seat to a special tether anchor in your vehicle. It helps stabilize the car seat and keeps your child's head from moving too far forward in a crash. To ensure a tight fit, press down on the car seat and pull to tighten the seat belt. Feed the excess seat belt back into the retractor. The seat belt will stay locked until it is unbuckled. Whenever possible, the tethers should be used with a forward facing car seat. To test the fit, hold the car seat at the belt path and pull it from side to side, like this.

The car seat shouldn't move more than one inch in any direction. If it does, press down again on the car seat and pull the seat belt tight. Make sure to recheck the movement of the car seat until it moves no more than one inch. A loosely installed seat is one of the most common mistakes parents make. If you choose LATCH, check your vehicle owner's manual to find the LATCH seating positions.

In some cars, there won't be lower anchors for the center seat. It's okay to install the car seat in one of the side seats, if that's where you get the tightest fit. Vehicle and car seat manufacturers set weight limits on LATCH. Refer to both of these manuals for these limits. You may also find the LATCH weight limit on the label on the side of the car seat.

If there is no information in your manuals, you must assume the total weight of your child and child safety seat combined, can't exceed 65 pounds. If this weight limit is exceeded, use your vehicle seat belt to install your child's forward facing car seat. Begin by finding your LATCH attachments. For lower anchors, most vehicles have a small plastic button or fabric tag to help. The lower anchors are directly below the button or tag. Your tether anchor location may be identified with a symbol. Attach each connector onto its own lower anchor and connect the tether strap. Tighten and adjust the straps according to the car seat instruction manual. Now test the fit at the belt path.

The seat should not move more than one inch in any direction. Now it's safe to put your child in the car. Buckle the harness and the chest clip and position the clip at armpit level. This helps to keep the straps over the child's shoulders. Next, tighten the straps. If you can pinch a fold at the shoulders, the straps are too loose.

The harness should lie in a straight line with no slack. Make sure your child wears light clothing every time they are in the car seat. Puffy jackets aren't safe. They create too much space between the child and the harness. Make this a habit. Check the harness every time you strap your child in and adjust as needed.

Remember the safety experts at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are dedicated to providing the most up-to-date information on child safety seats. Refer back to this and our other helpful videos on properly installing child safety seats before you hit the road. Safe travels.

Related Centers and Programs: Car Seat Safety for Kids