Keep your child safe in the car

Tips on using and installing car seats and booster seats

The National Safety Council reports that vehicular crashes increased 13 percent from 2016 to 2018 — even with improved safety features. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13.

Help keep your child safe by following these recommendations.

When to use a car seat or booster seat

  • Children shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches, must be in a car seat or booster.
  • Children younger than 3 should be rear-facing.
  • Children should be in harnessed seats until they reach the car seat/booster manufacturer’s maximum size recommendation. Federal standards require that guidelines be labeled on the car seat, and in the instruction manual.
  • Children need to be able to sit comfortably with their knees bent and feet on the floor to use a regular seat belt.

How to install a car seat or booster

  • Learn car seat terms before trying to follow installation instructions at
  • Convertible car seats, which can be used for both rear and front facing, have two belt paths.
  • Make sure the belt is strapped in closest to the vehicle’s seat back. The car seat should move no more than one-inch, side-to-side and front-to-back, at the belt path.
  • Make sure the seat belt is locked. It may lock at the retractor (which happens when you pull the seat belt all the way out to lock it) or it may lock at the buckle of the seat belt with a locking latch plate.
  • If your child is less than 45 pounds, you can install car seats using lower anchors — horizontal bars located in the vehicle’s seat, that provide a secure anchor for the car seat’s lower attachments.
  • The car seat must be tight and the harness snug. If you can pinch the harness material together at your child’s shoulder — it is too loose.
  • All forward-facing harnessed seats must use top tethers, straps that “anchor” the top of the car seat to a tether anchor in the vehicle.
  • Booster seats, used when your child has outgrown a car seat, position your child so that the belt rests across the center of their chest and the lap belt goes across their hips — “pocket to pocket.”

Other safety considerations

  1. Look for a local car seat inspection station. Certified technicians will show you how to correctly install your car seat.
  2. Register your car seat with the manufacturer to be notified if there is a recall or safety alert. You can register or sign up for recall and safety alerts at the NHTSA website.
  3. Have a used car seat? The NHTSA website has guidelines if it is safe to use or not.
  4. Be a role model! Buckle up every ride, every time.

For more information about car seat safety, go to or

Tom Leach is the Child Passenger Safety Coordinator for the Injury Prevention Program at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD).


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