Car Seat Safety
Using a car seat (child safety seat) is the best way to protect kids when traveling by car. Every state in the United States requires that an infant or small child be restrained. And with good reason — unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children, and most such injuries are from automobile crashes.
Child safety seats can greatly reduce the risk of a potentially fatal injury, especially for babies but also for toddlers. Yet many safety seats are used incorrectly. When choosing any car seat, following some general guidelines will help ensure a child's safety.
The best car seat is not always the most expensive one — it's the one that best fits a child's weight, size, and age, as well as your vehicle. Once you select a seat, be sure to try it out, keeping in mind that store displays and illustrations might not show the correct usage. It's up to you to learn how to install a car safety seat properly and harness your child for the ride.
If you need help installing your safety seat or would like a technician to check whether you've installed it properly, the federal government has set up child car seat inspection stations across the country. Also, many local health departments, public safety groups, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments have technicians or fitting stations to help parents. (If you go to one of these locations, be sure to ask for a certified child passenger safety technician.)
Choose a seat with a label that states that it meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
Accept a used seat with caution. Never use a seat that's more than 6 years old or one that was in a crash (even if it looks OK, it could be structurally unsound). Avoid seats that are missing parts, are not labeled with the manufacture date and model number (you'll have no way to know about recalls), or do not come with an instruction manual. Also, check the seat for the manufacturer's recommended "expiration date." If you have any doubts about a seat's history, or if it is cracked or shows signs of wear and tear, don't use it.
If you accept a used seat, contact the manufacturer for recommendations on how long the seat can safely be used and to find out if it's ever been recalled. Recalls are quite common, and the manufacturer might be able to provide you with a replacement part or new model.
Be sure to fill out the product registration card so you will be notified about recalls right away.