Topic Overview

Infant and
child car seats save lives. By law, children must be buckled up in a car seat that is made for their weight, height, and age. Check your state’s laws at

child who is not in a car seat can be seriously injured or killed during a
crash or an abrupt stop, even at low speeds. A parent’s arms are not strong
enough to hold and protect a baby during a car accident. Many unrestrained
children die because they are torn from an adult’s arms during a crash.

Set a good example for your children by always wearing
your own seat belt, and always insist that they buckle up.

Requirements for car seats

Buy a car seat
appropriate for your child’s current age, weight, and height. For safety, it is very important to have a car seat that fits your child and faces the right direction. Be sure to follow the car
seat maker’s recommendations. They should
include weight and height guidelines. They
should also tell you how to install the seat
and how to secure your child in it.

The following guidelines come from
the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA):

Ages 0 to 12 months

Your child younger than age 1 should always ride
in a car seat that faces the back of the car
(called rear-facing). There are different types
of rear-facing car seats. Infant-only seats
can only be used rear-facing. Convertible
and 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher
height and weight limits for the rear-facing
position, allowing you to keep your child
rear-facing for a longer period of time.

Ages 1 to 3 years

Keep your child rear-facing in a convertible
or 3-in-1 car seat as long as possible.
It’s the best way to keep him or her
safe. Your child should remain rear-facing
until he or she reaches the
top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s maker. As soon as your child outgrows
the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to
travel in a car seat that faces the front (called
forward-facing) and that has a harness.

Ages 4 to 7 years

Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat
with a harness until he or she reaches the
top height or weight limit allowed by your
car seat’s maker. As soon as your child outgrows
the forward-facing car seat with a harness,
your child can travel in a booster seat but
still in the back seat.

Ages 8 to 12 years

Keep your child in a booster seat until he or
she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly.
For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt
must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not
the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie
snug across the shoulder and chest and not
cross the neck or face. Remember: Your child
should still ride in the back seat because it’s
safer there.

Don’t buy a used car seat. If a car seat has been
recalled or has been in an accident or misused, it may not fully protect your

Proper positioning

The safest position for your
baby or child is in the back, middle seat of the car.

  • Do not place your
    child’s car seat in the front seat of any vehicle with a passenger side air bag
    that cannot be turned off.
  • Do not allow
    a child younger than age 13 to sit in the front seat of any vehicle.
  • Make sure your infant’s car seat is at an angle where his or her head does not flop
  • It is okay for your baby to fall asleep while traveling as long as the straps are in the right position. Do not put your baby down to sleep in a car seat. It should only be used for travel.
  • Take
    extra care if you have a
    premature infant
    . Slouching may affect his or her
    breathing and oxygen supply.

For maximum safety, follow the manufacturer’s
recommendations for car seat use. Cars
manufactured since September 2002 are equipped with a standardized car safety
seat attachment system. This feature allows parents to secure the car seat on
a permanently installed hook.

Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians can help you install your car seat and
position your child safely. To find help in your area, go to or You can also
call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at

Do not let your child get out of his or her seat
while the car is moving. If your child needs attention, stop the car, take the
child out of the seat, take care of his or her needs, and put him or her back
into the seat before the car starts moving again. If your child is fussy again
soon after, stop and check your child again.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations (U.S.)

Safe Kids World (U.S.)


Other Works Consulted

  • Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention (2011, reaffirmed 2014). Policy Statement: Child passenger safety. Pediatrics, 127: 788. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-0213. Accessed February 12, 2015.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD – Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD – Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017