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Infant Car Seat Regulations, Guidelines and Laws

Car Seat Guide from Birth to Age 12

Infant Car Seat Regulations, Guidelines and LawsWhen it comes to choosing infant car seats, it’s important to understand two things. First, children who are unrestrained in motor vehicles are likely to become severely injured, disabled or may suffer a fatality if involved in a car accident. Second, by law, all children must be properly restrained in motor vehicles. Car seats save lives, and children must be properly restrained when riding in a motor vehicle. Proper restraints include infant car seats with harnesses, booster seats and the proper use of seat belts.

Though every state requires children to use a government approved car seat, booster seat or wear a seat belt, each state’s regulations, guidelines and laws differ. You must check with your state and determine the regulations and laws that are applicable for your situation. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a list of guidelines that are applicable for all U.S. residents regarding the use of child car seats, boosters and seat belts. The following guidelines will help ensure you provide the safest motor vehicle experience for your child.

Children from birth to 12 months should ride in a government approved, rear-facing car seat. Always read the manuals that arrive with your car seat and ensure that you have installed it correctly. Infant car seats should be installed in the backseat, behind the driver, as this is the safest position in the car. Avoid installing infant car seats in the front passenger seat, as air bags may prove to be fatal should they deflate while an infant is riding in the front seat.

Infant car seats are selected based on your child’s height, weight and age. If you are unsure of how to properly install a car seat, you may bring your vehicle and car seat to a certified expert who will make certain the infant car seat is installed correctly. You may find a car seat inspection station locator in your local area through the NHTSA at NHTSA.gov Child Car Seat Inspection Station Locator.

Children between the ages of 1 and 3 years old should have their car seat in the rear-facing position as long as possible. Rear-facing is the safest position for the car seat. You may find that many 3-in-1 infant car seats that adjust to booster seats can safely remain in the rear facing position after a child turns 1 years old. Once your child outgrows the rear facing position, keep him or her in the back seat and install a forward-facing car seat with a harness. Check the manual and information that accompanied your car seat upon purchase, especially if you have questions or concerns regarding the height and weight limits of a particular brand of infant car seat. If you have questions regarding a specific car seat brand or model, contact the company through internet or by phone. Many companies will have a toll free, customer care hotline specifically for addressing consumer questions and concerns.

When your child outgrows his or her car seat he or she may be ready for a booster seat. Children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old should ride in a booster seat that is installed correctly in the back seat. Booster seats must be strapped in correctly using the seat belt.

When your child reaches the age of 8, he or she may be ready for a seat belt. Seat belts should be used once you are sure your child can sit safely in the back seat and that the belt fits properly. Correct placement of a seat belt indicates the belt fits across the upper thighs and feels snug or tight across the shoulder area and chest. Seat belts should always fit on the upper thighs and shoulders and not across the stomach or neck area.

You may check your local state laws governing child safety seats, including infant car seats, boosters and the use of seat belts at the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. The listing includes links to each state’s laws, information regarding the use and guidelines of adult safety belts and fines as well as traffic points applicable for first offenses.

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