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Frequently asked questions about car seats

Here you'll find answers to common questions on general safety, picking the right seat, and proper installation.

General Safety

Question: How long is a car seat good for?

Answer: Car seats have an expiration date - check the manufacturer's information.

Question: What is the Child Passenger Safety law in Massachusetts? 

Answer: All children riding in passenger motor vehicles must be in a federally-approved child passenger restraint that is properly fastened and secured until they are 8 years of age or over 57 inches tall. Children older than 8 years of age or taller than 57 inches must wear seat belts.

Question: How can I determine if my child is ready to transition from a booster seat to a seat belt?

Answer: When children outgrow their booster seats, they can use the adult seat belt in the back seat if the belt fits properly. If fitted properly, a child should be able to:

  • Sit with their back and hips against the car seat back and sit without slouching.
  • Bend their knees easily over the front edge of the seat and keep their feet flat on the floor.
  • Safely wear the seat belt - Lap belt low and snug across the hips, shoulder belt across mid-chest and shoulder.
  • Use the properly adjusted vehicle head restraint.
  • Remain in this position for the entire ride.

Question: Are used car seats safe?

Answer: If you are considering using a secondhand car seat, make sure you check the following:

  • The seat has never been involved in a moderate to severe crash.
  • The seat has labels stating date of manufacture and model number. You need this information to find out if there is a recall on the car seat or if the seat has expired.
  • The seat has no recalls. If you do find a recall on the car seat, you should contact the manufacturer.
  • The seat has all its parts. If the seat is missing a part, contact the manufacturer.
  • The seat has its instruction book. You can also order (or download) the instruction manual from the manufacturer.

Question: When can my child ride in the front seat?

Answer: The back seat is the safest location for all children. It is recommended that once a child turns 13, they can ride in the front seat.

Question: Can I use a baby insert to better position my small newborn in his or her car seat?

Answer: Many car seats come with inserts to position smaller babies. Anything that comes with the car seat has been tested for safety. If you purchase a separate insert for the car seat, it can make it less safe and is usually not recommended by the manufacturer. Check with the car seat manufacturer if you are not sure. Do not place anything under or behind the baby in the car seat that did not come with it. 

The Right Car Seat

Question: What is the best car seat for my child?

Answer: The best car seat for your child is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, and you are able to use correctly every time. The correct car seat will accommodate the height, weight, and developmental abilities of your child. 

Question: When is my child ready for a forward-facing car seat?

Answer: Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It is the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat's manufacturer. Once you child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready for a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. 

Question: I hear that children should ride rear-facing until age 2, my child is tall and his legs are hitting the back seat. Is that safe?

Answer: This is no evidence that legs hitting the back seat are at greater risk of injury in a crash. Children who ride forward-facing are at a higher risk in a crash because their neck bones are soft and ligaments are stretchy, which means infants or young children can suffer spinal cord injuries. Even with good head control, a child between the age of 1 and 2 is five times safer in a rear-facing car seat than in a forward-facing seat.

Question: Is my 4-year old, who weighs 40 pounds, big enough to ride in a booster seat?

Answer: Most booster seats require children to be at least 4 years of age and 40 pounds to use them. Please check the label and instruction manual of the booster seat. However, it is safest to keep kids in harnessed car seats as long as possible. 

Car Seat Installation

Question: Where do I look up recalls on car seats?

Answer: If you need to determine if your car seat is being recalled, visit nhtsa.gov/recalls

Question: How do I know that my child's car seat is installed correctly?

Answer: To correctly install a car seat you should first become familiar with the installation instructions of the child restraint and the recommendations for installation for you particular vehicle. The car seat should not move more than 1 inch from where it is belted. If you have any questions, visit a Child Passenger Safety Technician in your area

Question: I installed my car seat and it seems secure, but when I turn the corner the seat moves side to side. Is that normal?

Answer: Usually when this happens it has to do with the position of the seat belt. Most cars are equipped with one or two ways to secure a car seat using the seat belt. Once the seat belt is secured through the correct belt path, you should pull the shoulder portion of the belt slowly all the way out and activate the locking mechanism.

Question: My car does not have LATCH, is the seat belt okay to be used?

Answer: If your seat belt is in good working condition, it is fine to use. Look in your car's owner's manual for instructions on how to install the car seat with the seat belt. [LATCH stands for "Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children" and it is a system that makes child safety seat installation easier without using seat belts. LATCH is required on child safety seats and most vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002. LATCH is not required for booster seats, car beds, and vests.]

Question: Can I install a rear-facing seat in the front seat of a pick-up truck?

Answer: The back seat is the safest location for any child. If your pick-up truck does not have a back seat, then you can put a rear-facing car seat in the front seat ONLY if you are able to turn the airbag off manually. There should be a switch or a location that turns it off with your key. If the pick-up truck has an advanced airbag that shuts off automatically depending on the weight of the seat, check with the car seat manufacturer to see if they allow it. Most currently do not. 

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