Happy smiling mother placing baby in car seat and closing belt for safety.

Most parents think they are using the right car seat for their child, but four out of five car seats are installed and used wrong!

Child safety seats are required by law in every state because they provide the best protection in a car for infants and young children. However, installing a car seat can be challenging due to the wide variety of restraint systems, seat belt systems and vehicles today.

Read the vehicle manufacturer’s instructions to learn how to correctly install the car seat. Do not use a car seat that’s more than 6 years old.

Rear-facing car seat: An infant under 2 must be secured in a rear-facing car seat in a rear seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.

Never put a rear-facing child in a front seat with an active passenger air bag, and never try to put a rear-facing seat forward-facing.

Forward-facing car seat: A child at least age 2, or under 2 who has outgrown the manufacturer’s height or weight limits for a rear-facing car seat, must be secured in a forward-facing car seat in a rear seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the highest height or weight requirements of the forward-facing car seat. 

The harness straps should be snug and flat. When using a seat belt, make sure it is routed through the correct belt path on the car seat.

Booster seat: Children at least age 4 who have outgrown their forward-facing car seat must be secured by a booster seat in a rear seat of the vehicle. Lap and shoulder belts must be used.

There are two types of booster seats – high back booster and backless booster. If your car’s seat back ends up lower than your child’s ears, use the high-back booster to help protect the neck and head. If your car’s seat back is higher than your child’s ears, use a backless booster seat.

Seatbelts: A child at least age 8 or at least 57 inches tall may use an adult seat belt if the child can be secured properly. When a seat belt correctly fits a child, the lap and shoulder belts should both be used. The child should be able to sit all the way back against the seat with knees bent over the edge of the seat. The shoulder belt remains snugly positioned across the chest and collarbone.

Children with breathing problems, casts or other healthcare issues may need to use special car seats. Never try to alter a car seat to fit a child with special healthcare needs.

It is best to have your car installed by a nationally certified car seat tech. Bluffton Township Fire Department does car seat checks by appointment. Call 843-757-2800. Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue does car seat checks twice a month by appointment. Call 843-682-5145. Both locations have certified techs.

Cinda Seamon is the fire and life safety educator for Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue.