Buckle up: What you need to know about car seat safety

File photo. File photo.

Remembering the facts about car safety can be a daunting task. But keeping your child safe while riding in the car is one of the first and most important jobs that parents have. Here are some of the basics:

Infants and toddlers should ride rear-facing until they’re 2 years old. This seat can be a rear-facing bucket seat or a convertible seat that can later change to be forward-facing. Many parents ask what to do if their child’s legs touch the back of the car before they are two. Crash tests support rear-facing carseats as the safest until 2 years old, with leg injuries being very rare.

After 2 years old, toddlers should ride in a forward-facing carseat with a harness for as long as possible—until they reach the height and weight limits of the seat, or at a minimum until 4 years old.

Once a child meets the height and weight limits for the seat, he should use a booster seat until he is 4′ 9″ (about age 8 to 12 years old), or the seat belt in your vehicle fits appropriately across the shoulder and chest (off of the neck). An adult seatbelt fits properly if the lap belt fits snugly across the upper thighs (not the belly) and the shoulder strap lies across the mid chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat.

The middle of the backseat is usually the safest place to install your carseat. In the event of a side-impact crash, the risk of your child being badly injured is lessened. However, in some cars, it is difficult to make the seats fit tightly, in which case, the side is safer. Most new convertible carseats and new cars have the ability to use the LATCH system for extra security—and this system should be used whenever possible. If you aren’t sure how or where to install the carseat in your vehicle, many firestations have trained personnel to install the seat or check your installation job. (The closest child car seat inspection station is in Staunton. Call (540) 332-3842 for more info.)

Don’t forget that the safest place for all children younger than 13 years old is the backseat.

Finally, check the dates on carseats—they can expire. And if the seat has been in a moderate or severe crash, it should no longer be used as safety cannot be guaranteed. If you have any questions about your carseat, your pediatrician is a great place to start.

Of course, don’t forget to model safety for your older children—buckle up every time you get in the car!—Paige Perriello

Paige is a general pediatrician practicing at Pediatric Associates of Charlottesville. She is married, with two children.