When To Switch Car Seats

When To Switch Car Seats

Should Your Child Advance To The Next Level of Car Seat? know When to Switch car Seats?

Every next stage of the car seat offers less protection than the last. Our goal must be to keep children safe. As pediatricians, we don’t recommend moving up to the next level of car seat until your child exceeds the height & weight maximum for your specific seat. Knowing when to switch car seats is crucial information for all Parents out there.

Rear-Facing Car Seat

When To Switch Car Seats

Infants should stay in a rear-facing car seat until at least 2 years of age. If a seat allows a height & weight that will keep the baby rear-facing until they are older, that is just fine! Babies have bigger heads compared to the size of their body so the sudden forward motion of the neck when in a front-facing car seat can lead to spinal cord injuries in young babies. Some parents worry their baby’s legs are too long to be in a rear-facing seat. Babies can criss-cross their legs easily at this age. Leg injuries are very rare for babies secured in a rear-facing car seat. Rear-Facing car seats should only be placed in the back seat of a car, never in the front seat. 

Forward Facing 5-Point Harness

Forward Facing 5-Point Harness

Generally, we say a child should stay in a 5-point harness until they are 4 yrs old & weigh 40 lbs. However, nowadays, some seats allow children to be secured in a full 5-point harness up to 110lbs. (Read the manufacturer’s insert on your car seat). Though staying in a 5-point harness until an older age may annoy our little ones, statistics show that every year more than 100,000 children are injured in motor vehicle accidents and more than 700 children die in such accidents. It behooves us to keep our kids as safe as possible no matter how much they complain about it and be patient about when to switch car seats. 

High-Back Booster

Booster with a back

When a child’s shoulders are above the top harness slots in a 5-point harness or the top of their ears are at the top of the seat, they are ready to transition to a high-back booster. This type of seat positions the car’s in-built seat belt flat along the bony parts of the shoulder/mid-chest & upper thigh/hip bone. It is NOT SAFE for seat belts to lie along soft body parts like the neck & abdomen. Many 5-point harnesses convert to high-back & backless boosters. If a car’s seat has no headrests or has low back seats, children should remain in a high-back booster until it’s time to graduate from a booster altogether. 

Backless Booster 

If the car’s shoulder & lap belt lies correctly along the child’s shoulder bone & hip bones without needing the highback’s belt positioner, then the child can transition to a backless booster. Children should stay in a booster seat until they are 4’9” & 8 to 12 yrs old (or until the maximum size is reached for that booster seat). We used to say, 8 years & 80 lbs. to get out of the booster and go to the car’s seat, however, this guideline doesn’t promote the most safety. Thus, we now recommend a child should be 4’9” before getting out of a booster seat to sit in the car’s seat. This will usually happen between 10 &12 years of age. Additionally, when they’re sitting on the seat of the car, their upper legs (above their knees) and lower legs (below their knees) should be at a perpendicular angle and the child should be able to sit comfortably in the car’s seat for the entire duration of the trip. 

Front Seat Riding

Front Seat Riding

As children grow up, parents start hearing, “Can I sit in the front seat?” Though children might begin to talk like they’re old enough to sit in the front seat, the recommendation is for them to ride in the back seat until they’re 13 yrs old & ideally > 100 lbs. Seat belts are designed to protect adults. They don’t fit appropriately on smaller children. Add to that the danger of an insufficiently restrained child coming into contact with a front seat airbag that deploys at 100-200 mph. This can cause serious injury and even death for children. It is best for all children to ride in the back seat until their size & weight allows them to sit safely in the front seat. 

What About Seat Belts?

Always, Always, Always wear a seat belt when riding in a car. This recommendation goes for everyone… not just children. It should supersede whatever laws exist in your state about “having to” wear a seat belt. More than ½ of the teenagers and adults to the age of 45 who die in motor vehicle accidents were not wearing seat belts. Once your child is no longer riding in a 5-point harness, the car’s in-built seat belt will be what keeps them safe for time to come. 

What If The Car Seat is in a Car Accident?

If the car seat was in the car during a moderate or severe accident, it is not safe to use that car seat again. There may be damage to its working parts and it may not effectively keep a child safe. Many car manufacturers will also say a minor car accident can invalidate the safety features and protection mechanism of car seats. Bottom line, if that car seat has been involved in a car accident, it needs to be replaced. Also, keep this in mind when buying a second-hand car seat. Make sure to ask if the car seat has been involved in any car accidents and know when to switch car seats. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more details for parents about different questions that may come up for parents about car seats.

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