car seats for children

Child Car Seat Instructions Can Be Misleading

Kids are always in a hurry to grow up. When it comes to car seats, however, parents would be well served to slow them down. Rear-facing harness seats should be used until a child reaches the appropriate age, height and weight to move into a forward-facing seat. Tests conducted by Consumer Reports indicate that many manufacturers of car seats recommend unrealistic weight minimums for their safe use.

car seats for childrenOf the 34 seats Consumer Reports reviewed, more than 80%recommended weight minimums (30 to 33 pounds) that, if followed, would accommodate toddlers too small to be safely secured in a forward-facing seat. An analysis of growth charts revealed that the average 30 pound child is approximately two-and-a-half years old. Alarmingly, a 15 month old that weighs in the 95th percentile would meet the minimum weight standard for most forward-facing seats. It recommends three years as the minimum age at which a child can be safely secured in such a seat.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses age as the determinant of the kind of safety seat a child should using. It recommends that from birth to three years a child be secured in a rear-facing seat. It further recommends that a child be kept in a rear-facing seat until he reaches the height and weight maximum set by the manufacturer.

NHTSA guidelines allow for front-facing car seats beginning at age four. However, it stresses that a child should continue to be secured by a harness restraint, as opposed to a car’s three point seat belt, for as long as possible. At this age, many children start to squirm and complain about the harness. To the extent possible, parents should keep them strapped in. Only when a child outgrows the manufacturer limits set for the forward-facing restraint should he be allowed to use a booster seat secured by the car’s three point seat belt.

Only when a child is tall enough to wear a seat belt properly, and remain properly secured when in a moving vehicle, should he be allowed to graduate from a booster seat. NHTSA describes proper seat belt fit as “snug across the upper thighs,” not the stomach, and snug across the shoulder and chest, not the neck or face. The earliest most children reach this standard is age eight. Even when they do, NHTSA recommends that they ride in the back seat until age 12.