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How Long Do Your Kids Need to Be in Car Seats?

how long kids need to use carseats

Keeping your children safe should be your number one concern as a parent. Using proper car seats and booster seats is one of the most important things you can do to protect your little ones while driving. But at what ages can you transition them to the next type of seat? And when is it finally safe for them to use only a seatbelt? This article will walk you through the latest recommendations to ensure you're following car seat guidelines correctly.

Infant Car Seats

Infant car seats are rear-facing seats specially designed for newborns. Most experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommend keeping infants in rear-facing seats until they are at least two years old. Some even suggest going closer to the maximum weight limit of the seat, which for most models is around 35 pounds.

The reason rear-facing is safest is because it cradles the infant's head, neck and spine in the event of a car crash. This helps absorb the impact and decreases the chances of a serious or fatal injury. So, even though your baby's feet may touch the back of the seat as they get bigger, it's best to keep them rear-facing until at least age 2.

Convertible Car Seats

After outgrowing an infant seat, the next step is a convertible seat. These can be used rear-facing until your child meets the height and weight limits (usually around 40-50 pounds), then switched to forward-facing. It's recommended to remain rear-facing with a convertible seat until at least age 4. Some sources even suggest staying rear-facing until the maximum limits of your convertible seat.

Once you do flip the seat around, make sure the straps are in the correct slots for your child’s size. You'll need to adjust these periodically as they grow taller. Keep them in a forward-facing convertible seat until reaching the maximum limits, which is typically around 65 pounds.

Booster Seats

The next transition is to a belt-positioning booster seat. These lift your child up so the seat belt fits properly across their smaller bodies. Children should remain in booster seats until the seat belt rests naturally across their chest and sits smoothly across their hips and thighs. Most kids need a booster until age 8-12.

You may be eager for your child to sit without a booster, but not using one when needed is extremely dangerous. Lancaster car accident attorneys Jordan and Christopher Marzzacco will tell you that “improper seat belt fit is a leading cause of serious abdominal and spinal cord injuries in children. Be patient and make the switch only when you're certain your child is tall enough to use the seat belt safely without a booster.”

Regularly Check Installation

Research shows that as many as 59% of car seats are installed incorrectly. When installing car seats, carefully follow the directions that come with the seat as well as your vehicle owner's manual. Common mistakes include loose car seat straps, incorrect belt routing, and incorrect seat angles. Even if it seems secure, double-check the installation periodically to make sure it hasn't loosened over time. Don't hesitate to contact a certified child passenger safety technician if you have any doubts.

As kids grow, transition them to the next type of car seat when they reach the maximum height and weight limits. Following these guidelines and inspecting seats regularly gives your children the best chance of arriving safely whenever you drive.