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Car seat safety for children: How to choose and use a car seat

Car seat is an essential piece of child safety equipment.

Unless you plan to walk home from the hospital, you’ll need a car seat from day one. By law in all 50 states, your child must be properly restrained in a car seat, usually until he’s at least 7 years old. Also, most states now require children to ride in booster seats until they weigh 60 pounds or more, or are a certain age or height.

If you need more convincing, consider these sobering statistics: In 2009, 179,000 children were injured in auto accidents and more than 1,000 died.

In fact, car crash injuries are the leading cause of death among children because many children aren’t properly restrained, which means that car seats could have prevented many of those deaths.

And while you may assume that most of these tragedies resulted from fiery, high-speed collisions, the truth is that 75% of car accidents happen on local roads or undivided highways, and half of the accidents involving children happen on streets where the speed limit is 44 mph or less.

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There are three basic types of car seats to choose from:

  • Baby or infant-only car seats: These should always face the rear of the car. They have a weight limit of between 22 and 35 pounds. When your baby reaches the weight or height limits for his infant seat, move him to a rear-facing convertible car seat.
  • Convertible or infant-toddler car seats: These function as both rear-facing seats for babies and toddlers and forward-facing seats for older children. Many new ones are designed to hold a child of up to 40 pounds rear-facing and up to 70 pounds forward-facing. It’s safest toleave your child rear-facing as long as possible – in fact, the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2, or until he reaches the seat’s maximum rear-facing height and weight limits.
  • Belt-positioning booster seats: These seats are for kids who are at least 4 and weigh at least 40 pounds. They use the regular car lap and shoulder belts to secure the child. Backless boosters are fine when used with an automobile seat that provides head support.

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