Newborn Basics

Q&A: Car Seat Safety?

How can I keep baby safe in the car?

The most important thing you can do? Strap the little one into a car seat! (The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agree.) But are you doing it correctly? Here are a few tips:

Look for a good fit. Make sure the seat fits baby and your car. The AAP suggests trying it before buying it: Strap baby in and install the seat in your car. If both go smoothly, this is the model for you.

Read the instructions. We know it's tempting to just figure it out, but please — read through the instruction manuals for both your vehicle and your car seat! (Check for advisories on your seat belt labels too.)

Babies to the back! If baby is less than two years old and lighter than highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat's manufacturer, she should be riding in a rear-facing seat. Also, make sure you stow your little one in the back seat, particularly if your car has a passenger airbag (which most models do nowadays).

Keep them seated!
From age two until they reach the maximum height or weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer, children should ride in a forward-facing seat. After that, until they're about eight years old, or 4 feet, 9 inches, use a belt positioning booster seat. Once they've outgrown the booster, make sure they properly strap in with the lap-and-shoulder seat belt.

Make sure it's locked.
If your seat belts don't have an automatic locking mechanism, you can purchase a locking clip to be sure baby is secure.

Get it snug. Be sure the car seat fits as snugly as possible to the vehicle's seat. Press on the seat, and pull the seatbelt until it is as tight as possible.

Get an inspection. Get your seat-installing skills checked out by your local NHTSA office. They maintain Safety Inspection Stations in every state to help moms like you.

Drive safely. Set a good example for your little one by always remembering to buckle up. After that, car safety is up to you and your defensive driving skills.

— Updated August 29, 2012

Plus more from The Bump:

How to Buy a Car Seat

Top Ten Car Seats


By The Bump Editors