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The rules and regulations of toting child passengers have morphed so hugely over the last 20 years or so - as they've gone from nearly no federal rules and guidelines to ticketing and, in some cases, arrest if you're driving a car with a child who is not riding in a FAA approved car seat that meets the height and weight mandates. Sometimes, however, we may not be fully aware of the car seat safety rules and guidelines. For example, even though a child might be under the height requirements, he or she may be at max weight. Or, in another case, you might have a taller toddler who needs to be in a specific forward-facing seat before most kids his or her age. The variation of circumstances are always specific to individual needs and, as with anything else, it's best to do the research to make sure your child is riding safely. We've put together the latest car seat safety guidelines for your review below!
Infants & Toddlers: Rear-Facing The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants should ride rear- facing starting with their first ride home from the hospital. All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 2 years of age or preferably until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat's manufacturer.
Rear-Facing Only Seat:
  • Are used for infants up to 22 to 40 pounds, depending on the model.
  • Are small and have carrying handles (and sometimes come as part of a stroller system). Usually come with a base that can be left in the car.
  • The seat clicks into and out of the base so you don't have to install the seat each time you use it. Parents can buy more than one base for additional vehicles.
  • Should be used only for travel (not for sleeping, feeding, or other uses outside the vehicle).
Toddlers & Preschoolers: Forward-Facing Any child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their convertible car seat should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer. It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to 4 years of age. If your child out-grows his seat before reaching 4 years of age, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.
Types of Car Safety Restraints:
  • Convertible seats—Seats can "convert" from rear-facing to forward-facing. These include 3-in-1 seats.
  • Forward-facing-only seats— Seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 80 pounds (depending on the model). Although manufacturers are not currently making any forward-facing only seats, many remain in use from previous years.
  • Combination seat with harness—Seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 90 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 80-120 pounds, depending on the model).
  • Built-in seats—Some vehicles come with built-in forward-facing seats. Weight and height limits vary. However, do not use built-in seats until your child  is at least 2 years of age. Read your vehicle owner's manual or contact the manufacturer for details about how to use these seats.
  • Travel vests—Vests can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and can be an option to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by car seats. These vests may require use of a top tether.
School-Aged Children: Booster Seats Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing car seats. All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age. The owner's manual that comes with your car seat will tell you the height and weight limits for the seat. As a general guideline, a child has outgrown his forward-facing seat when any one of the following is true:
  • He reaches the top weight or height allowed for his seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and also included in the instruction booklet.)
  • His shoulders are above the top harness slots.
  • His ears have reached the top of the seat.
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