Your child’s car seat is the most important piece of baby gear you’ll buy because it’s the one that could actually save your child’s life! Riding in the car is one of the most dangerous activities we do on a daily basis with our newborns, toddlers, big kids, or teens. Your chosen seat should fit your child and fit well in your vehicle, but having a car seat is one thing—knowing how to use it is another. 

Car seats are not quite as intuitive as you think. Buckling your child in, installing your car seat, and moving through the car seat journey can be tough for anyone, even parents on their third or fourth child! This is because the industry is always changing as car seat technology advances. How do you know how to use all the car seat features? How do you know the best way to use your car seat to keep your child as safe as possible?

The truth is, the information isn’t easy to find. Luckily, our whole blog is dedicated to educating parents like you on safe vehicle travel and safe car seat use. So, for today’s post, we’re sharing car seat best practice tips that you can keep top of mind when traveling with your little one. 

6 Car Seat Best Practices

1. Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.

Your child is safest riding rear-facing. Period. All the research shows that when children ride in a rear-facing car seat, they’re less likely to be significantly injured or killed in a collision. That’s huge! However, most people move their child out of the rear-facing position far too early. 

Your child should remain rear-facing until they reach the car seat manufacturer’s weight or height limit. For most kids, this means they’ll stay in their rear-facing car seats until roughly age 4, which is probably much longer than you initially thought, but waiting for the max height and weight limits means your kiddo stays as safe as possible for as long as possible! 

Infant car seats are always rear-facing, but most convertible car seats work for infants too, and can be both rear-facing and front-facing. Not sure if Infant or Convertible is right for you? Head over to this blog post for more info.

Just make sure when you move to a convertible car seat, you stay in rear-facing mode well after they reach the minimum forward-facing requirements. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees: keep them safely seated in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. 

Recommended Car Seats
Recommended Car Seats

2. Buckle yourself and your children safely and correctly. 

Where my pregnant mamas at?! Let’s make sure you are safe in your seat too!⁠⁠ And, no, you do not need a special seat belt positioner to use while pregnant.⁠⁠

Here are my 6 tips for safely driving while pregnant:

1. Adjust the steering wheel to the highest position and tilt upright if possible.
2. Move the headrest so the thickest part is directly behind the head.
3. Adjust the vehicle seat back to an upright position.
4. Sit as far back from the steering wheel as possible. The belly should not come in contact with the wheel.
5. Position shoulder belt between neck and end of shoulder, lying snug and flat between breasts.
6. Lap belt snug and tight UNDER the belly, laying flat across top of thighs.

Remember, do the very best you can.

Not every pregnant body is the same so aim to come as close to achieving these steps as possible for your body and your vehicle. ⁠⁠ ⁠⁠

Though most people agree that car seats are integral to their child’s safety, many don’t know how to properly buckle their kiddo. Studies have indicated that 59% of children in car seats are not buckled correctly. Of course, this isn’t due to a lack of care by their parents, instead, it’s an education issue. 

The harness itself seems simple enough, but once you finish buckling your child, ensure that the following statements are true:

  1. The chest clip is placed even with the child’s armpits. 
  2. The harness straps are all equally tight, and you can’t “pinch” the straps between your fingers at the child’s collarbone. Check out the pinch test here.
  3. If your child is rear-facing, ensure the harness straps are set at or below the shoulders. If they’re front-facing, the straps are threaded at or just above the shoulders. 
  4. If your child is rear-facing, their head is within the confines of the headrest, not above. Most seats require 1” of clearance over your child’s head in rear-facing mode.
  5. If your child is forward facing, the tops of their ears are below the top of their car seat headrest. It’s okay for a forward-facing child’s head to peek over the top of their car seat, as long as their ears are contained!

Proper Harnessing

Once you feel you have a good understanding of these car seat harnessing rules, take the test! Check out the video below and challenge your knowledge:

Can you spot the mistakes?

3. Check that Crotch Buckle.

Does your crotch buckle need to be readjusted? The crotch buckle position is critical to keeping your kiddo safe. It keeps your child properly sitting in their seat with their bum back, spine supported and harness in place. This is especially crucial for our youngest passengers without neck control. A properly positioned crotch buckle means your baby cannot slide or slouch down putting their breathing at risk.

Let’s make sure you aren’t missing an important step when adjusting the crotch buckle: making sure it is routed through the fabric AND the shell of your car seat!

1. Check that your kiddo’s crotch buckle is in the correct position. Head to your seat’s manual and look for the specific rules about which crotch buckle position must be used when based on weight or direction (rear or forward-facing).
2. Make any adjustments needed. The general rule is the crotch buckle should be closest to your child’s body without going under their bum – not their diaper.
3. Be sure the crotch buckle is routed through the shell of your car seat AND the fabric. Your manual will walk you through this!

SITS TIP: If you’re having trouble figuring out which spot is closest to your diaper-wearing kiddo, put a nude booty in the seat to get a better look!

4. Get the safest installation with a car seat consultant. 

Installation is another car seat process that’s not easy. In fact, some recent studies have estimated that the error rate for installation could be as high as 95%. Wow! That’s a scary number. We have a great article on proper installation, but the best way to get a great fit is to hire a child passenger safety technician

These consultants are trained in car seat safety and can ensure your car seat fits properly in your vehicle. You can do one virtually with us HERE, or you can search for child passenger safety technicians in your areas on the Safe Kids Worldwide website. (And, before you ask: No, you cannot get your car seat checked at a fire station.) 

5. Don’t graduate from restraint systems too soon. 

Your kiddo should remain in a safety restraint system until they’re about twelve, whether that be a car seat or booster seat. (You can read more about different types of car seats and their uses HERE.) Before they can graduate from using a restraint system, they must pass the 5-step checklist. Determine if your child is ready using this guide

  1. Their back and bum are flush against the vehicle seat. 
  2. Their knees bend at the edge of the vehicle seat. 
  3. The lap belt lays flat and taut across the top of their thighs. 
  4. The shoulder belt fits flat on the body, positioned between the neck and shoulder. 
  5. They’re old enough and mature enough to maintain a proper seating position for the whole ride. 

Once they pass this 5-step checklist and are truly ready to graduate out of their booster seat, keep them in the back seat. Even if the seat belt fits your child, the front passenger seat is much less safe than the rear. Front collisions are the most common and that front airbag can be deadly for a child. Don’t even consider the front seat as an option until your child is age 13+, but even then, consider their height, stature, and necessity. No matter what, they’re safer in the back seat!  

6. Commit to safety in every vehicle and every ride.

No matter where you’re going and how you’re getting there, it’s important to follow safe car seat practices. Whether you’re going on a road trip or a quick errand, safety is of the highest importance.

Car Seat Safe Toys & Accessories
Car Seat Safe Toys & Accessories

And, if you’re traveling by bus, plane, or RV, take a look at our articles highlighting the safest car seat and booster seat procedure in each of these vehicles. No matter what, your child needs to be safe in their seat! 

Always Keep Baby Buckled When They’re in Their Seat

Follow these car seat best practices to keep your child safe and secure on every ride!

We hope this round-up of car seat best practices taught you some new tricks to keep your kiddo safe. Driving is a dangerous task, no matter how safe of a motorist you are—and if your car seats and booster seats aren’t utilized correctly, they only help your kiddo so much! Follow us on Instagram and browse our blog for more car seat information. These tools will help you get the best fit and safest ride every time.

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