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Car Seat Safety Basics

Nervous about driving with baby in the car? First things first: Make sure she’s safe.

When it comes to keeping baby safe in the car the most important thing you can do is strap him or her into a car seat. ( The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agree.) But how can you be sure you are doing it correctly? Here are a few safety tips to follow as you install baby's car seat:

Look for a good fit
Make sure the car seat fits as snugly as possible to your vehicle’s seat once it’s latched in. Press on the seat, and pull the seat belt until it is as tight as possible. Vehicles and child safety seats made after September 1, 2002, are compatible with the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, which makes it easy to install the seat without seat belts.

Read all of the instructions
We know it’s tempting to just figure it out, but please don’t. Before you do anything, carefully read the instruction manuals for both your vehicle and your car seat. (Check your seat belt labels for any important advisories too.)

Don't wait till the last minute
Hospitals won’t let you take baby home without a properly installed car seat, and you can bet once those contractions kick in you or your partner won't be in the best frame of mind to first start trying to figure it out. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time—at least several weeks before your due date—to set it up and have it inspected (see below for more on that).

Babies to the back
If baby is younger than 2 years old or hasn't reached the highest weight or height allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer, he or she should be riding in a rear-facing seat in the back of the car.

Keep them seated
From age 2 until baby reaches the maximum height or weight, children should ride in a forward-facing seat. After that, until they’re about 8 years old, or 4 feet 9 inches, use a belt positioning booster seat. Once they’ve outgrown the booster, they should use a lap-and-shoulder seat belt in the backseat. (FYI: Most children don't reach the appropriate height and weight requirements to move to the front seat until they are 13 years old.)

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 in his or her seat.

Get an inspection
Head to your local NHTSA office to have them double check your car seat installation. They maintain Child Car Seat Inspection Stations in every state to assist new parents for free.

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

The Bump and Diono present The Road Ahead, a sponsored series covering everything you need to know before buying baby’s first car seat. Visit to shop their infant and convertible car seats.

PHOTO: Ariel Skelley / Getty Images