Car accidents are the leading cause of death of children in the United States. Follow these guidelines to give your child a safe ride.
: Car seat installation procedures differ. Always read the seat manufacturer's instruction manual and your vehicle's owner manual to ensure proper installation.
Step 1: Use the correct seat Buy an appropriate safety seat for your child's age, weight, and height. Babies should ride in a rear-facing seat at least until they are a year old and weigh 20 pounds.
Step 2: Look for the LATCH system Check your seat and vehicle owner manuals to see if your car is equipped with the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, system. Cars and seats manufactured after 2002 have LATCH.
Step 3: Position the seat Place the safety seat on the appropriate seat in your car according to the instructions. If your safety seat has a detachable base, position the base without the seat.
: Never place a child safety seat in a front passenger seat with an air bag. The safest place is in the middle of the back seat.
Step 4: Attach the seat Attach the seat using the LATCH connectors, according to the manual. If not using LATCH, thread the car's seatbelt through the seat's belt paths and buckle the belt.
TIP: Safety seats that can be installed facing either forward or backward have two belt paths. Use the correct path for the way you are installing the seat.
Step 5: Weigh it down Kneel on the safety seat or seat base, and tighten the LATCH belts or seat belt, using your weight to get as snug a fit as possible.
TIP: Install a rear-facing infant seat at a 45-degree angle to keep the baby's head from falling forward and blocking its airway. Use the seat's angle adjustment or place a swimming pool noodle under the base.
Step 6: Use a locking clip if necessary Use a locking clip with a seat belt installation for a tighter fit. Unbuckle the belt, install the clip, and then buckle the belt again. It should be so tight that it is difficult to buckle.
TIP: Use a locking clip with shoulder belts that do not lock automatically, including emergency-locking shoulder belts. Your safety seat may have a built-in locking clip for forward-facing installations.
Step 7: Check the latch plate Make sure the seat belt's latch plate is below the belt path. If not, twist the belt buckle up two full turns to lower it, and re-buckle the belt.
Step 8: Connect the top tether Attach the top tether on forward-facing LATCH safety seats and tighten securely. Do not attach the tether to a cargo hook or the vehicle seat adjuster.
Step 9: Check the installation Make sure you cannot move the safety seat more than an inch from side to side. If in doubt, have your installation checked at an inspection station. Find one in your area at safekids.org.
FACT: Did you know? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 80 percent of car seats are incorrectly installed.