The two main concerns when choosing a safety seat that fits your child are the weight limits and height limits. Children should be in a car seat with a five-point harness system until they reach the weight or height limit of the seat - whichever comes first.
Children should ride rear facing until they are at least one year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds - both criteria are needed before they can ride facing forward. However, it is recommended that children remain rear facing as long as possible (up to the rear facing weight limit of the seat). It is safe for your rear facing baby's feet to touch the vehicle seatback. A child will outgrow a rear facing seat when they have either reached the rear facing weight limit of the seat or the top of their head is less than one inch from the top of the seat. It is important that a rear facing child's head is below the top of the car seat so they have proper head and neck support in the event of a crash
Most forward facing car seats have a weight limit on the harness system of 40 pounds. A child is too tall for a forward facing seat when the tops of his or her shoulders are higher than the top harness slots. When a child outgrows a forward facing seat he or she should then use a booster seat in conjunction with an adult lap and shoulder belt until they are 4'9" tall. If you have a seat that converts to a booster you must remove the harness system when the child reaches the weight or height limit and use the adult seatbelt with the booster seat. Note: Do not exceed the manufacturer's recommended weight or height limits for the child safety seat.
The following chart below shows the typical progression of child restraints. Please note that when a child is rear facing the harness slots being used should be at or just below the tops of the shoulders and when a child is forward facing the harness slots should be at or just above the tops of the shoulders. Harnesses should be very snug against the child and the harness clip should be across the center of the chest at armpit level. When a child has reached the weight limit or height limit of a seat - whichever comes first - they have outgrown the seat. Note: Always refer to the child seat and motor vehicle manuals for specific instructions.
Progression of Child Restraint Seats
- Newborn to approximately 6 months of age
- Weight under 20 pounds
- Height under 26 inches
Rear-Facing Convertible Seats:
- 6 months to 1+ years of age
- Weight under 30 pounds
- Top of head at least 1 inch below top of seat
Forward Facing Seat:
- Over 1 year of age
- Weight under 40 pounds (and over 20)
- Top of shoulders below top harness slots on seat
- Approximately 4 to 8 years of age
- Weight over 40 pounds
- Height under 4'9"
Adult Lap and Shoulder Belt
- Approximately 8+ years of age
- Approximately 80+ pounds
- Height is 4'9" or taller
Additional Note on Second Hand Seats : It is not recommended that you use a second hand seat. If you do have a second hand seat make sure you know the history of the seat. Do not use a seat that has been involved in a motor vehicle crash. Do not use a seat that is six or more years old. It is also very important you contact the manufacturer to check for possible recalls on the seat and register the seat so you will be notified of any future recalls. Again it is not recommended that you use any second hand seat!
Booster Seats - Why they are so Important
Children typically outgrow their car seats when they weigh 40 lbs, however an adult seat belt will not fit them properly until they are 4'9" tall. Booster seats are designed for children in this size range so adult seatbelts fit them properly. The most important function of a booster seat is to keep the lap portion of the belt down on the hips and off of the stomach area. If the belt is not positioned properly and tightens on the stomach area in a crash the child can receive serious internal injuries. Booster seats should also position the shoulder portion of the belt across the child's chest and allow the knees to bend comfortably.
There are two basic types of booster seats, high back boosters and low back boosters. Both types of boosters are safe to use. Low back boosters are not as large and visible as the high back models and are often recommended for children who feel they are "too old for a baby seat". However, if you are using a low back booster be sure your child has proper head and neck support. If you have head rests in the rear seat the center of the head rest should be positioned at the center of the child's head. If you do not have head rests be sure the booster seat does not raise the center of the child's ears above the top of the seat. If you are using a device that comes with the booster seat to keep the shoulder portion the belt off of the child's neck be sure that if the child moves forward and back the slack in the belt retracts. If the belt does not retract on its own it is recommended that you do not use this device.
Children should use a booster seat until they are 4'9" tall, check the manufacturer's manual for specific instructions and weight limits. Many small children enjoy using booster seats, because they can see out of the vehicle window and they are seated in a more comfortable position. The added bonus is that this is a safer way for small children to travel.
Note: It is not recommended you use any device that attaches to the lap and shoulder belt and does not work in conjunction with a booster seat. These devices are designed to move the shoulder portion of the belt off of the child's neck however they may also alter the position of the lap portion of the belt and move it across the stomach area which could result in serious internal injuries.