Selecting a Car Seat

car seat stages

Did you know that, according to Safe Kids, 75% car seats have some sort of mistake? Some studies say up to 90%. Either way car crashes are the leading cause of preventable death for children ages 1 to 13.

Selection is the first step.  But which seat is the right car seat or the best car seat?

There is no one answer because it depends. So generally speaking, the best car seat is the car seat that fits your car, fits your child and you can install correctly every time.

What do you need to know to select the best seat for your child?

First you need to know your child’s weight and height. Then you need to know…

Which of the 4 Stages is your child in?

There are 4 stages of car seats: rear facing , forward facing, belt positioning and seat belts.

Some also include the prenatal stage as the child in the womb needs special attention and protection while in the car as well. There are a surprisingly high number of pregnancies lost every year in car crashes. Pregnant women should wear their seat belt, wear it properly and use a  pregnancy seat belt positioner called the Tummy Shield, which redirects the seat belt away from the pregnancy.

Stage 1: Rear Facing

Birth to max limits of rear facing seat; AT LEAST until 2 years old; ideally until age 4. A child is 5x safer rear facing as the child’s back, head and neck are all supported by the seat. In Sweden children are kept rear facing until the age of 4, then put right into a booster seat.

Types of seats to use:

  • Infant-only seat (bucket and base)
  • Convertible seat in rear-facing position
  • All-in-one seat in rear-facing position

Stage 2: Forward Facing

From the time they outgrow their rear-facing car seat (at the very least age 2, preferably age 3 or 4) to when they outgrow their forward-facing car seat (depends on the child and seat but typically about 5 or 6).

Types of seats to use:

  • Convertible seat in forward facing position
  • All-in-one seat in forward facing position with the harness
  • Combination seat with the harness
  • RideSafer travel vest: This is uncommon still so we’ll describe it. A vest worn by the child with seat belt guides to properly position the seat belt, at this age particularly useful as a travel car seat or secondary seat for other cars.

Stage 3: Belt Positioning

From when the child outgrows their forward-facing car seat (approximately 5 or 6) to when the child passes the 5-step seat belt fit test (approximately somewhere between 8 to 12 years of age).

Types of seats to use:

  • Booster seat
  • RideSafer travel vest: The guides on the RideSafer help ensure the shoulder belt stays properly positioned during a drive even if the child moves or leans over unlike when a child moves or deliberately places the seat belt behind his back or under his arm with a traditional booster.
  • All-in-one seat in forward facing position without the harness
  • Combination seat without the harness

Stage 4: Seat belt only

When the child can pass the 5-step test (below); typically when a child is 4’9″ (57″) tall which doesn’t usually happen until a child is 9 to 2 years old.

  1. Is his back against the seat and feet on the floor?
  2. Are his knees naturally bent at the edge of the seat?
  3. Is the lap belt across his upper thighs?
  4. Is the shoulder belt across his midshoulder/midchest?
  5. Can he sit like this for the whole ride?

Remember, children under 13 should always ride in the back seat.

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