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Are You Using the Right Car Seat?

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Anyone with small children knows how important it is to protect them. From the moment we bring them home from the hospital, our lives are spent in protection mode - locking up medicines and household chemicals, plugging off electrical outlets, wrapping the corners of the coffee table with foam bumpers. And when you take your little bundle of joy out on the road, you buckle them into a car seat.

Car seats have been around for well over 100 years, but didn't come into favor as a safety device until the mid-1980s. These early child restraints were rudimentary at best, and lacked the variety of features that modern seats have today. Nowadays, there are different types of seats for different ages, and sometimes it's difficult to know which is the right seat for your child.

Types of Car Seats

The best car seat for your child is one that is selected based on your child's age and size. This means that you'll likely need a number of different seats as your child grows, before he or she is old enough and big enough to use a regular seat belt.

  • Rear-Facing Seats

The NHTSA recommends keeping your child in a rear-facing seat from birth to three years. Most new parents take their newborn home from the hospital in an infant carrier-style seat, which locks into a base installed in the car. Once your infant reaches the top range for height and weight as established by the seat's manufacturer, you can move them into a rear-facing toddler seat. Rear-facing seats provide better support for a young child's head and immature neck and spine.

  • Front-Facing Seats

Many parents purchase a car seat for their toddler that can be used both rear-facing and front-facing, which can save money in the long run. However, the temptation to turn your child forward facing too soon is great with such a seat. Front facing seats are designed for children ages 4-7.

  • Booster Seats

Once your child has reached the maximum height and weight for his or her front-facing seat, you can graduate them into a booster seat. A booster seat allows your child to use your vehicle's safety belts, but gives your child a "boost" so that the safety belts are in the proper position to be effective. Booster seats are designed for use by children ages 8-12.

  • Seat Belts

Many older children look forward to the day they graduate from a booster seat to using regular seat belts like mom and dad. After your child has outgrown his booster seat in regard to height and weight, seat belts are the next step for safety as a passenger. For a child to use a regular seat belt, he or she must be at least 4'9" and past the age of 12.

Regardless if you're a new parent or an old pro, the biggest rule to remember is that children under the age of 12 are safest riding in the back seat. It's tempting to treat your child to a ride in the front seat the closer they get to the teenage years, but should you be involved in an accident, your car's air bags can seriously injure or even kill a young child. Many vehicles today have a switch that allows you to disable passenger air bags in the front seat, but even with this precaution the front seat can be a dangerous place for a child.

Properly Installing a Car Seat

It's estimated that three out of four car seats in use are installed incorrectly. Aproperly installed car seat is snug in the vehicle seat and you should not be able to move it more than one inch in any direction along the belt path. But not all car seats fit all vehicles. The best car seat is one that is appropriate for your child's age, weight, and height, and one that fits securely in your vehicle.

Fortunately, assistance and education in the installation of car seats is available in most communities, typically conducted by law enforcement agencies or hospitals. In Evansville, the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office provides instruction on the installation of car seats , as does St. Mary's Health System. The Women's Hospital at Deaconess offers a list of car seat check points for parents throughout the Tri-State.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 14, but the use of car seats helps to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers. Protect your most precious cargo while you travel, and use a properly installed child safety seat.

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