WHAT TYPE SHOULD I USE?
As your child grows, he or she will move through several different types of car seats. Your child’s weight, height, and developmental level are the most important factors in choosing a car seat. A child’s age is a secondary factor, because children of similar ages can vary widely in terms of size and developmental level. Many resources list a child’s age as a general guideline for car seats, but it should never be taken as an absolute. Many parents transition their child to the next type of car seat before he or she is physically ready. A good rule of thumb is to delay the transition to the next type of car seat for as long as possible. This will ensure that your child’s body is physically strong enough to withstand the forces that each type of car seat is designed to manage. Generally, a child should be MORE than the bare minimum in weight and height requirements of a new seat before transitioning into it. Familiarize yourself with the labels on the side of your child's seat. They will clearly state the weight (and usually height) range which is acceptable for each mode of use. Keep track of your child’s growth and check often to ensure that they are still within the proper range for their car seat.
Transition your child into the next car seat only after she has outgrown either the weight or height limit of her seat – not when she meets the minimum requirement of weight or height for her new seat!
Rear-Facing Recommendations: 0-35lbs, 19-40”, 0-4 years
Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that children ride in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, which is generally until at least age two. The AAP points out that most convertible car seats can accommodate children up to 35 pounds. Some rear-facing seats are rated for 40 pounds or more. It is recommended that a child uses his or her car seat in the rear-facing configuration until he or she outgrows either the weight or height limit. Rear-facing seats are proven to be safer for children under the age of two. Some types of infant carriers, which can only be installed rear-facing, only accommodate children up to 25 pounds. If your child is using one of these and outgrows it, a convertible car seat in rear-facing mode is your best option for the next step. It is not “best practice” for a 25 pound child to transition to forward-facing, because there are many rear-facing seats on the market which can still accommodate the child in the safer rear-facing mode. Many children will outgrow a car seat’s height limit before the weight limit is met. If your car seat’s manufacturer offers specific instructions regarding height limits, pay close attention to them. In general, the top of a child’s head should be at least one inch below the top of a rear-facing car seat. If your child’s head has reached the top of his seat, it is time to buy a different seat. If your child is not at least two years old or 35 pounds when he has outgrown the height or weight limit of his car seat, there are many higher height/weight limit rear-facing convertible car seats which may be a better fit for him. If your child is near 35 pounds and two years old, it may be time to switch to a forward-facing restraint.
Forward-Facing Recommendations: 20-70lbs, 35”-50”, 2-7 years
Once a child has outgrown her rear-facing car seat, she is ready for a forward-facing car seat. It is recommended by the AAP that a child be at least two years old before being moved to a forward-facing seat. Every forward facing car seat with a 5-point harness can accommodate a child until at least 40 pounds. Many models will accommodate children up to 65 or 80 pounds. Children can generally use these seats until somewhere between ages 4 to 7. It is recommended by the AAP that children remain in a forward-facing car seat for as long as possible; that is, until they outgrow either the weight or height limit of the seat. Forward-facing harnesses have several advantages over booster seats, and transitioning too early can be dangerous to your child. Ohio law requires children under the age of 4 and 40 pounds to be in a car seat!
Belt-Positioning Booster Recommendations: 40-105lbs, <4’9”, 6-12 years
When your child has outgrown his forward-facing car seat by either height or weight, he may be ready for a belt-positioning booster. Belt-positioning booster seats guide the vehicle’s regular seat belt over the proper areas of your child’s body. In addition to meeting the height and weight requirements of any particular booster, your child must be able to prove that he is mature enough to sit properly in a booster seat before transitioning into one. Make sure your child understands that he must sit up straight, keep the lap belt positioned low over the thighs and hips, and keep the shoulder belt positioned over the middle of the shoulder (not near the neck). Boosters offer the child more freedom of movement than the 5-point harness system in a forward-facing restraint. For this reason, the child must display the responsibility to ride in one correctly. Belt-positioning boosters should be used until the child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches. Most children will reach this height between the ages of 8 to 12. Ohio law requires children to be in a booster until they are 8 years old, unless they are at least 4’9”.
Lap and Shoulder Vehicle Belt Recommendations: >4’9”, all children and adults should wear a seat belt
When a child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches, she is probably ready to use a regular seat belt. It is important that your child sits in a vehicle seat which has both a lap and shoulder portion of the seat belt. The shoulder portion should hit the center of the child’s shoulder, and not rub against her neck or fall off the edge of her shoulder. In order to be ready for a seat belt, the child must demonstrate that she is responsible enough to wear the seat belt correctly during every car ride. She must never put the shoulder portion of the belt under her arm or behind her back, as these actions could have serious consequences in a crash.
Back Seat Recommendations
All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. Air bags located in the front seat can pose a threat to children who are not developmentally as strong as adults.