The Four (Plus) Stages of Car Seat Safety

NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) advocates for parents to adhere to the four stages of car seat safety.

  1. Rear facing (5 pt)
  2. Forward facing (5 pt or RideSafer)
  3. Belt positioning (RideSafer or Booster)
  4. Seat belt only

Rear Facing

  • As long as possible up to the weight and height limits of the seat but at least between 2 and 3 years old.
  • 5x safer than forward facing because head neck and spine are supported in a forward crash—the most common type.
  • Legs bending or pushing on vehicle seat is not a safety concern or a reason to turn forward facing.
  • Always in back seat—never in front of active airbag.
    • Position harness straps at or below child’s shoulders
    • Harness clip at armpit area
    • Harness straps snug and no winter coats inside the harness
    • Seat is installed at the correct angle
    • If using an infant seat, ensure handle is locked in a travel position per the manual.
    • Child has at least 1″ of shell above their head.

Forward Facing

  • For children who have outgrown their rear-facing convertible seat.
  • Typically a 5-point harness as primary restraint. (Option for a RideSafer which is certified starting at 3 yrs and 30lbs.
    • Straps are at or above shoulders
    • Harness clip at armpit area
    • Harness straps snug and no winter coats inside the harness
    • Ears are below the top of the shell
    • Top tether is connected

Belt Positioning Device

  • For children who have outgrown their 5-point harness and are mature enough to sit properly, typically 5 years old.
  • Belt Positioning Device options include:
    • Booster: lifts child to be like adult body to fit seat belt
    • Booster alternative: RideSafer vest brings seat belt down to fit the child
      • Lower center of mass = better crash dynamics
      • Designed to absorb and dissipate crash energy across larger area of body
      • Can be used with a lap-only belt along with a Tether Strap
    • Shoulder belt at shoulder—not cutting into the neck, slipping off the shoulder.
    • Lap belt sits low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs.
    • Child is mature enough to stay seated properly—without leaning out of the seat belt—even while asleep.
    • With a backless booster, the vehicle headrest should be at least to the tips of child’s ears.

Seat Belt Alone

When a child is at least 4’9″ and can pass the following 5-step test, they are ready for just the vehicle’s adult seat belt alone.

  1. Child sits all the way back in the vehicle seat with knees bent at the edge.
  2. Shoulder belt fits evenly across the torso, not cutting into the neck or face.
  3. Lap belt is low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs.
  4. Feet are on the floor.
  5. Child can stay seated comfortably this way for the entire ride.

What’s the plus stage?

The car seat technicians at Safe Ride 4 Kids advocate an additional stage which actually occurs before the other four.

  • (+) Pre-Stage: Pregnancy protection

The pregnancy protection stage is important as even more children die during pregnancy from car crashes than children in car seats. Some of these pregnancies lost are even due to the position of the seat belt across mom’s lap. Now that is NOT to say don’t wear the seat belt. Definitely wear your seat belt when driving in pregnancy! You can help protect your pregnancy in the event of a crash with the Tummy Shield, a maternity seat belt positoner. The Tummy Shield repositions the seat belt off the pregnancy abdomen, creating a leg harness.

    • Wear the seat belt as low as possible on your lap—if you are not using a Tummy Shield.
    • Move the seat back as far as is comfortable from airbag/steering wheel and still be able to reach for safe driving.
    • Tilt the steering wheel up some so airbag deploys above pregnancy
    • Have someone else drive as much as possible.

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