NHTSA Recommends Kids Stay in Car Seats, Boosters Longer

By Jennifer Newman  on March 21, 2011

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has revised its child-safety seat guidelines to make them easier for parents to follow. The new guidelines now focus on a child’s age and recommends that parents keep their children in the appropriate car seats for as long as possible — ideally, until the child reaches the car seat’s height or weight limits.

“Selecting the right seat for your child can be a challenge for many parents,” NHTSA administrator David Strickland said in a press release. “NHTSA’s new revised guidelines will help consumers pick the appropriate seat for their child.” The new NHTSA guidelines are below:

Birth to 12 months old

  • A child younger than 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.
  • There are different types of rear-facing car seats. Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer time period.

1 to 3 years old

  • Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reached the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

4 to 7 years old

  • Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the backseat.

8 to 12 years old

  • Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: Your child should still ride in the backseat because it’s safer there.

These new guidelines mean that kids will be in nearly all of their child-safety seats for a longer period of time. Parents should no longer change the position of a rear-facing convertible to forward-facing when a child turns 1. Many parents may wonder if an 18-month-old or 2-year-old will fit in a rear-facing car seat, but the child can simply fold their legs or sit cross-legged.

Parents also should keep their children out of the front seat until they’re 13 years old.

An American Academy of Pediatrics study published today in the journal Pediatrics also recommends keeping young children in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible.

To learn more about NHTSA’s recommendations, click here.

Safety


Assistant Managing Editor Jennifer Newman is a certified car-seat technician. A mom of two, she owns a 2013 Subaru Outback crammed with sports gear.  Email Jennifer