Choosing and using a car seat properly

As the New Year sets in and we are creating our New Year’s resolutions, make a resolution you know you can keep; keeping your children safer in 2016. Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children and, when used correctly, child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by up to 71 percent. Knowing this, learning about which car seat your child should be in and how to properly install it is a great place to start your year of safety.

Which seat is correct for your child? Do some research before purchasing a car seat. 

Does the seat you are looking at fit in your car and is easy to install? If you have three car seats across the back row, this is a very big deal. Many baby stores allow you to test the sample model in your car to help you decide.

Know the law versus best practice

If possible, we always want to follow the best practice protocols that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends. This is keeping a child rear facing until the height or weight limit of their rear-facing seat or until at least 2 years of age. This is five times safer in a crash than forward facing. Keep them in a forward facing seat with a 5-point harness until they outgrow the height or weight limit of their seat or until they are at least 4 years old and 40 pounds. Last but not least, keep your child in a booster seat until they hit 4 foot 9 inches. Sometimes this could be as old as 11 or 12, but it is when the seat belt starts hitting them in the proper areas of the chest and hips. 

Car seats on planes

Do you need a Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) approved car seat? If you travel with your children on a plane even once a year and they are still in a rear or forward facing 5-point harness you will want to find a FFA approved car seat that allows you to use the seat on the airplane. The safest way for a child to travel in a plane is having their car seat installed into their own seat on the plane and then placed snugly in that car seat. You are not strong enough to hold a child if unexpected turbulence hits during a flight. If you are bringing extra car seats or booster seats, always gate check them to keep them from getting banged up or lost in the cargo area. Boosters should never be used on an airplane. 

Choosing a car seat

Many parents ask which car seat and/or brand is the safest? All new car seats sold in major stores in the U.S. have been properly tested and pass the same Federal Motor Vehicle (FMV) safety regulations. The safest seat is going to be the one that fits well in your car, fits your child properly and you can install correctly each and every time. Beware of seats sold online from brands you have never heard of. They might not have been tested properly or at all. 

Proper installation of a car seat 

Read the car seat manual and the section of your vehicle manual that covers child passenger safety. Your child’s safety is not a time to play guessing games and hope you got it right. Also, it is worth it to keep from struggling and getting frustrated when installing the seat. Many cars do not allow you to use the LATCH system in the middle seat. It is good to know these types of things before installing. 

Still having trouble? You aren’t the only one! Around 70 percent of parents bringing a newborn home from the hospital have their seat or child improperly installed on their first trip home. Call a local inspection station and set up an appointment to have a Certified Car Seat Technician take a look at your seat to check for proper installation and help answer any questions you may have. For inspection stations in northern Colorado, visit Safe Kids Larimer County’s website at

Alison Newman is the Health Educator at Community Health Improvement | Safe Kids Larimer County.

Time to discard that car seat

Do not use a car seat if it:

  • Is too old. Look on the label for the date it was made. If it is more than 10 years old, it should not be used. Some manufacturers recommend that seats only be used for 5-6 years. Check with the manufacturer to find out when the company recommends getting a new seat. 
  • Was in a crash. It may have been weakened and should not be used, even if it looks fine. Do not use a seat if you do not know its full history. 
  • Does not have a label with the date of manufacture and model number. Without these, you cannot check on recalls. 
  • Does not come with instructions. You need them to know how to use the car seat. Do not rely on the former owner's directions. Get a copy of the instruction manual from the manufacturer before you use the seat. 
  • Has any cracks in the frame of the seat or missing parts.
  • Is recalled. You can find out by calling the manufacturer or the Auto Safety Hot Line at 888/DASH-2-DOT (888/327-4236). This information is also available online at If the seat has been recalled, be sure to follow instructions to fix it or get the necessary parts. You also may get a registration card for future recall notices from the hot line. 

Any car seat that is no longer safe to use should have the straps cut and placed in the dump. If you would like to recycle the seat, strip it of all cloth, straps and metal pieces and take it to the Loveland Recycling Center at 400 N. Wilson Ave. You do not need to be a Loveland resident to recycle your seat.