As a parent, keeping your child safe is your primary concern. As reinforcement, there are child safety laws that require children riding in a motor vehicle to be contained in child safety seats. What kind of seat is determined by the child's weight and age. There are two main types of child safety seats: the car seat and the booster seat.
Differences in Infant and Booster Seats
The first type of car seat you will likely use is the infant car seat. These seats are installed facing toward the back of the car. These seats usually come with a base that remains inside the car and a removable seat with a handle. Once the child is 1-year-old and weighs at least 20 lbs., you can switch the position to forward-facing. As the child reaches school age, it will be more appropriate to switch to a booster seat. You can use a booster seat when the child is about 4-years-old and weighs 40 to 65 lbs. Once the child is approximately 8-years-old and the regular shoulder belt fits properly across the chest, you will no longer need to use a child safety seat.
Car Seat Installation
It is crucial to install your car seat properly by following the instructions for your particular seat. For back and forward facing car seats, make sure that the car seat is snugly in place in the seat by pressing firmly against the seat and that the seat belt goes through the correct path as determined by your car seat manual. The child should be secured tightly into the seat. This will prevent the seat or the child from moving too much during an impact and causing more damage. Check your car manual and the car seat manual for the proper installation technique for your seat belt system and model of car. Also, make sure to set the car seat at such an angle so that the baby's head does not hang forward.
Booster Seat Installation
Booster seats are designed to place your child in the proper position for using your car's installed safety belt system. The booster seat is placed on the car seat and the child on top of the booster seat. The seat belt should cross the child's shoulder and chest, then fit firmly across the upper thigh. Some seat belts need locking clips. To determine if one is needed, check your car owner's manual. Locking clips are not usually needed in new vehicles.
If your car only has lap belts installed in the backseat, as might be the case in older models, they will work fine with back- or forward-facing infant seats. Lap-only belts will not work for booster seats, however, as they do not offer chest protection and the child can still be thrown forward at the time of a collision.
You can transition to seat belts when your child is tall enough to accommodate a shoulder strap. The strap should fit snugly across the shoulder and chest; if it falls across the throat or neck, your child is not big enough for this type of seat. Transitioning to a regular seat belt before a child is tall enough could cause serious bodily injury or death in the event of a crash. Likewise, the lap belt should be positioned across the thighs rather than the child's abdomen.
Purchasing a Car Seat
Always purchase a new seat for your child to ensure the latest safety regulations are met. You should also check with the manufacturer for any recall information before you buy. If you are in a collision, do not continue to use your car seat. The integrity of the seat could have been compromised in the crash. Remember: Price does not indicate the safety of an infant or booster seat, so purchase an approved seat within your personal budgetary guidelines.