What Type of Car Seat is Right for my Child?

These days, choosing the right car seat for your child can be confusing. Use these guidelines to know what type of seat is appropriate for your child based on their age, height and weight. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and use as this varies from car seat to car seat.

What type of car seat is right for my infant?

  • Infants and children under the age of 1 and weighing less than 20 pounts should be rear-facing (i.e., they are looking out the back window of the car).
  • They can be restrained in an infant carrier seat (there is a base that the seat clicks in and out of) or in a convertible seat (a seat that can be positioned rear-facing OR forward-facing for older babies).
  • Your child has outgrown the infant carrier seat if she exceeds the manufacturer's height and weight limits. Once she has outgrown her infant carrier seat, she can sit rear-facing in a convertible seat.
  • Many convertible seats can be used rear-facing until your child is 35 or 40 pounds. Make sure your child's head is below the top of the safety seat and follow the car seat manufacturer's instructions for weight and height in the rear-facing position.

Babies should ride rear-facing for as long as possible because this offers the best protection during a crash. Infants are less skeletally mature and have heavy heads and fragile necks. The neck bones are soft and the ligaments are stretchy. If the baby is facing forward in a frontal crash, the body is held back by the harness straps, but the head is not. The head is thrust forward, stretching the neck. Because a baby's neck bones are soft, they can separate during a crash and the spinal cord can tear or stretch causing paralysis or even death. This is true even for babies who have strong neck muscles and good head control.

In contrast, when a baby rides rear-facing, the whole body (head, neck, and torso) is cradled by the back of the safety seat in a frontal crash providing much better protection. A rear-facing seat also protects the baby better in other types of crashes, particularly side impact crashes.

When is my child ready to face forward in a car seat?

  • When he is at least one year old and at least 20 pounds. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents and caregivers to keep their children in rear-facing car seats age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.
  • Continue to use a seat with a five-point harness until your child exceeds the manufacturer's guidelines for weight and height.

Your child is growing up fast, but don't rush her into using the regular seat belt if it doesn't fit properly, it won't protect her in a crash and could actually cause serious injuries or result in being thrown from the vehicle. A five point harness can prevent "submarining", which occurs when a passenger slides under the lap belt during a crash. For best protection, keep your child in a safety seat with a harness system for as long as the car seat manufacturer allows.

When can I move my child into a booster seat?

  • Once your child reaches weight and height limits for her forward-facing car seat, she should move into a booster seat that is used with the rear seat belt.

A booster seat raises your child higher so that the lap belt is positioned safely across the hips and the shoulder belt rests flat across the collar bone (crossing the middle of your child's shoulder, not her neck). Make sure the lap belt is positioned across your child's hips, not the soft tissue of her abdomen.

Boosters also make the seat belt more comfortable, making it less likely for your child to slouch or put the shoulder belt behind them.

There are backless, high-back, and removable back boosters. In general, use a high-back booster for smaller children or if your car does not have rear headrests. A backless booster may be more appropriate for an older child or can be used if your car has headrests. Let your child help choose the seat so they will be comfortable and happy to sit in it.

Learn how tell if your child is the right size for a booster seat.

Can my child sit in the backseat with just a seatbelt?

Colorado law requires the use of a child restraint until age 8. When your child reaches 4'9" (57") tall, usually between the ages of 8 and 12, she can start using the rear seatbelt once it fits properly. The rear seat belt fits properly when:

  • the shoulder belt lies across the chest, not the neck or face
  • the lap belt lies low across the thighs, not the stomach
  • your child can sit with her back against the seat back and her knees bend at the edge of the seat and her feet dangle down

When can my child sit in the front seat?

Children are safest in the back seat until they are 13 years old. If an 8 to 12 year old child must sit in the front seat, make sure to move the seat back as far as possible.