501 Life Magazine | Car seat safety
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Car seat safety

by Katelin Whiddon

Children are all so different and have a variety of needs, but safety is universal. Car seat safety is a somewhat big topic to sort out. This article will provide an overview as well as some reliable online resources for further reading.

According to the Arkansas State Police car safety seat brochure, children less than 60 pounds and 6 years of age must be in a safety seat. Understandably, due to different size ranges for kids during the early years, it’s hard to make concrete, “one-size-fits-all” rules. The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed guidelines for parents and healthcare providers to follow from evidence-based research. 

Any child born in the hospital must leave with a car seat – this is one baby item you MUST have. All infants are required by Arkansas law to be rear facing until the age of 1 year AND 20 pounds. This is not an either/or situation – they must meet both the age AND weight requirements. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children to remain rear-facing until at least 2 years of age. This AAP recommendation is based on a 2007 study that showed that 75 percent of children under the age of 2 are less likely to die or be severely injured in an accident if they were kept in the rear-facing position.

When a child is rear-facing, the car seat straps should come through the back of the car seat below the child’s shoulders. When a child is forward facing, the straps should come through the back of the car seat above the child’s shoulders. Always pay attention to the positioning of your child in the car seat as they grow and adjust straps as needed. All chest clips should be positioned at the armpit level and the straps should be tight enough that you cannot fit more than one finger between the strap and your child’s collar bone.

Each car seat has been safety tested and approved for different height and weight ranges. Refer to your car seat manual or the sticker on the side to see the height and weight limits on each car seat. If your child has exceeded either, it is time for a new car seat. The CarseatsAR.org website and AAP websites have more detailed information to guide the purchase of new seats, as well as information regarding car seat safety inspections.

After your child has reached 4 years of age AND 40 pounds, they can graduate to a booster seat.  They must remain in a 5-point harness until the age of 4 AND 40 pounds – both of these requirements must be met. There are no current laws as to whether the booster seat must have a back or not – this is personal preference. Children are to remain in the booster seat using a seatbelt in front of their chest until age 6 AND 60 pounds by Arkansas law, but, the recommendations for optimal safety are to remain in a booster seat until the age of 8 years or a height of 4 feet 9 inches.

Children are often excited to graduate out of the booster seat and are ready to ride in the front seat. This isn’t what the kids want to hear, but the back seat is the safest place for children under the age of 13.

Sometimes parents look forward to children meeting new milestones and transitions. Please don’t rush into a new position of the car seat or a new car seat without taking your child’s safety into consideration.

For more information (and even an app) to help you evaluate car safety seat guidelines, visit the AAP’s parenting website at healthychildren.org. Using guidelines and having a conversation with your healthcare provider, you will be able to make the best choice for each individual child in your family.