6 Rules For Front-Facing Car Seats Every Parent & Caregiver Needs To Know

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Car seats are complicated business, and for good reason: they save hundreds of kids' lives every year. They can be as complicated as they need to be if it means the difference between a child walking away from an accident or not. But they can be confusing for parents, so here are six rules for front-facing car seats that you'll need to commit to memory... Or at the very least, bookmark this page so you can refer back to it later. I know firsthand how your brain tends to turn to mush after having a kid.

If your child has been riding in a rear-facing seat and they're ready to graduate to a new seat (or turn the convertible around), you might think that you're an old pro who doesn't have anything more to learn. But there are some differences between rear- and forward facing. And if you're an uncle or a grandmother who's relying on the experience from your own kids, think again, because the rules have changed. But it's nothing you can't learn in a few minutes, and it's absolutely crucial if you're responsible for keeping a child safe while riding in the car. Here are the most important rules:

Don't Switch Too Early

I know, it's a bummer when you can't see your child in the rear-view mirror. But there's a very good reason why you should keep them rear-facing as long as possible: kids under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or suffer a serious injury in a crash when they're rear-facing, according to Parents. Rear-facing seats do a better job of protecting babies' heads, necks, and spines, so they shouldn't be turned around until a child is 2 years old and has reached the maximum height and weight limits for their car seat. If they reach the limits before age two, you can purchase a new convertible seat with higher limits, and wait until their birthday to finally turn them around.

Avoid The Front Seat

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The back seat — the middle of the back seat, specifically — is the safest place for children to ride in a car, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Airbags can kill a child, and you should never install a rear-facing seat in the front. But if you absolutely have to put an older child in the front seat, be sure to turn off the airbag, and move the seat as far back as possible.

Always Use The Straps Correctly

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Always use the harness straps, and use them properly, even if you're just going around the corner or changing parking spots. Check that they're tight enough by pinching them. If you can pinch, they're too loose. While the shoulder straps on a rear-facing seat should be at or below the child's shoulders, they should be at or above the shoulders for front-facing, and as with rear-facing, the clip should be at armpit-level. If the clip is too low, a child can slip out of the seat during an accident, and if the shoulder straps are too low, they can break, according to Parents.

Use The Anchoring Tether

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You might think you're a LATCH expert after a couple years of rear-facing, but there's more to it than those bottom anchors. A front-facing seat has an additional strap on the top that needs to be clipped to an anchor behind the seat. You might have never noticed the anchor in your car, but if it was made after September 2000, it's there. Check your manual if you can't find it. The tether keeps the seat (and your child) from being thrown forward in a crash or sudden stop.

Also make sure that you're anchoring the bottom correctly; the LATCH anchors and seat belt are equally safe, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, but the anchors can only be used until the child's weight and the car seat's weight reach 65 pounds. After that, you'll have to use the belt.

Don't Keep Them In The Seat Too Long

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While front-facing car seats are safer than booster seats for young children, there comes a point where it's safer to move them up. Once they've reach the maximum weight, their shoulders are above the straps, and their ears are above the top of the seat, it's time to move to a booster seat, which will guide the car's shoulder and lap belts to the appropriate positions.

Replace It After A Crash

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After you wreck your car, the last thing you want to do is shell out a few hundred dollars for a new seat, especially if it appears fine. But there could be damage that you don't see, so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends replacing your child's car seat after any moderate or severe crash. So when is it OK to keep a car seat after a crash? Only if you can answer "no" to all of these questions:

  • Is there any visible damage to the car seat?
  • Is the door next to the car seat damaged?
  • Were any passengers injured?
  • Did any airbags deploy?
  • Were you unable to drive away from the crash?

If any of this information was new to you, don't feel badly; like I said, car seats are complicated! But now you know, so you can make whatever changes you need to keep your kids safe.

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