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We know putting your child in a forward-facing car seat too soon can have dire consequences in the event of a car crash, and that babies should be in convertible car seats by the time they’re 1 year old (even if they haven’t outgrown their infant car seat). In fact, if a child’s head is one inch below the top of the car seat, they’ve definitely outgrown it. Moving your kid into a booster seat too soon is also a common mistake. But there’s a whole lot of other stuff about car seat safety you might not know.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated the guidelines on car seat safety for every age group so you know exactly what to buy and why. Here’s the breakdown:
Infants and toddlers should only be in rear-facing or rear-facing convertible car seats until they’re at least 2 years old, or reach the threshold for weight or height designated by the car seat manufacturer—whichever comes first.
Toddlers and preschoolers should have convertible car seats, and if they have surpassed weight/height limits, can be in a forward-facing seat with a harness. They should stay in these seats for as long as possible until they max out on the weight/height limits before moving into a booster seat.
School-aged kids (kindergarten and up) who exceed the weight and/or height limits of a forward-facing car seat with a harness belt should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they’re big enough to properly use a regular seat belt. And for the record, your child should be at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall before they’re “too big” for a booster seat. Although they may be tall enough or heavy enough between ages 8 and 12, they should stay in the back seat until they’re 13 years old.
Older kids should use lap and shoulder seat belts, regardless of whether they sit in the front or back; but they should only be sitting in the front if they’re older than 13 and have exceeded height and weight for booster seats.
When in doubt, consult the instruction booklet for your car seats (you can get them online from most manufacturers if you have no idea where they are) or call the manufacturer and have your make and model number available to get guidance from their consumer help line.
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