Frequently Asked Questions

Rear-facing:

How long should my child sit rear-facing?

For the best protection, babies and young toddlers should ride rear-facing as long as possible. In fact, the AAP News 'Parent Plus' from April 2009 states, '...toddlers are more than five times safer riding rear-facing in a car safety seat up to their second birthday.'

A child should ride in a rear-facing seat until s/he reaches the maximum weight or height of the seat.  The typical infant-only (carrier style) seat may be used to 22 pounds- though a few new infant-only seats have weight limits of 30 - 35 pounds!  Once a child outgrows the infant-only seat, a rear-facing convertible seat should be used.  Convertible seats may be used rear-facing until 30 - 45 pounds.  Always check the car seat instruction manual or labels for specific weight and height limits.

Click here for more information on rear-facing protection.

Click here for a copy of AAP's policy statement pertaining to the transportation of children.

How does a rear-facing seat protect a child?

Infants and young toddlers have large heavy heads, weak neck and shoulder muscles, soft, immature bones and soft brains (think the consistency of Jello in a jar), that are not fully developed or snugged into the skullcap.

Injuries are caused by the transfer of energy into human tissue.  During a crash, there is a tremendous amount of energy created  Car seats are designed to safeguard the fragile brain and spinal cord and provide maximum protection during a crash by dissipating the energy. When a child is positioned rear-facing, the back of the car seat shell absorbs the energy from the crash and helps keep the head and back in straight alignment, allowing the child's head and neck to be protected against the seat back. This helps prevent brain and spinal cord injury.

Rear-facing children are also better protected during side-impact collisions, one of the most dangerous types of car crashes.

What if my child's legs touch the back of the seat or are crossed? Is this unsafe or uncomfortable?

It might look uncomfortable to an adult, but for children riding this way, it's not a problem or unsafe. Babies and toddlers are very flexible, so they can ride comfortably with their legs crossed or resting against the back of the vehicle seat.  Children in Sweden ride rear-facing until they are 3 - 5 years old, and their motor vehicle injury rates are dramatically lower than those in the United States.

My baby's head seems to flop forward in the car seat.  How can I fix this?

Young infants have heavy heads and limited neck muscle control. When an infant's head flops forward, there is a risk that the air supply can be restricted. That's why it is extremely important to follow your car seat instructions to be sure the seat is correctly reclined.  Most car seats come with an angle indicator designed to help parents find the proper recline for that seat once correctly installed in the vehicle.  When the car seat is correctly reclined, baby's head should not fall forward once s/he is buckled in properly.

Most rear-facing infant-only car seats (and many convertible seats) come with head inserts and pads to help with head positioning or body support. Any insert which was included in the box with the car seat has been tested with the car seat and is considered safe to use by the manufacturer.  As the baby gets older and gains more head control, check the car seat instruction manual to find out if you may remove the head insert.  In addition, several manufacturers list a specific weight or size when the car seat insert or pad must be removed.

Head inserts and other products purchased separately are not safe to use unless specifically allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

If your baby tends to lean to one side or does not fit the manufacturer supplied head insert, it is permissible to take rolled towels or rolled receiving blankets and position them on either side (not behind) of the baby for support. Click here for a photo example.

Can I use a special pillow or accessory with the car seat?

Use only products or pads that came with your car seat. Don't buy or use any extra products designed to hold baby's head in place or entertain baby. Although car seat toys, mirrors, harness strap covers, fleece inserts, and extra padding are sold as safety or comfort devices, these products are not safety tested with the seat to meet federal motor vehicle standards. In fact, they may prevent your vehicle seat belt or car seat from functioning properly and they are usually prohibited by the car seat manufacturer. Extra blankets, padding and cushioning that go behind the baby may be dangerous because they create too much space between your baby and the harness. (Warning!) During a crash, toys or mirrors could become projectiles in the vehicle and could injure your baby or other occupants.

Is it okay to let my child sleep in the car seat?

Car seats should only be used for transportation purposes. The car seat should not be used as a place for infants to sleep or sit while not in transit. Sitting or sleeping in a semi-reclined position for excessive periods of time can be unhealthy for babies. When not being used for transportation, put your baby to sleep in her crib or bassinette or on the floor for tummy time.

I am expecting twins and wonder what car seats would be best?

Congratulations! There is always plenty to prepare for when expecting one or more babies! Selecting the right car seat is one of the most important decisions you will make for your babies' safety.

The "best" car seats will fit your child(ren), fit your vehicle, and be easy for you to adjust and use correctly.

For parents who are expecting twins (or higher order multiples) or mothers experiencing a "high risk pregnancy", it is a good idea to prepare for a baby who might weigh less than 5 pounds when discharged from the hospital. Because most car seats have a minimum infant weight of 5 pounds, you should consider a seat with a lower weight limit. This list has seats which might be suitable for smaller infants, based on their minimum weight limits and harness dimensions.

The cost of a car seat is another factor to consider. When you look at affordability, consider how long you might be able to use the seat. Several models of infant carrier-style car seats have increased weight limits of 30 or more pounds and at least 30 inches. These seats should allow you to use this car seat longer than a car seat with a 22 pound weight limit.

Lastly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides an "Ease of Use" Rating for car seats, which might help you compare seats based on clear labeling and instructions, ease of adjustment, and user-friendly features. (When considering the ratings, be sure to check the manufacturing date on listed seats, as car seat models may have been modified, discontinued, or added since the ratings were conducted.)

My baby lifts his head up from the car seat and he looks too big for it. What should I do?

If baby starts to lift his/her head away from the back of the car seat while riding in the car, a more upright rear-facing position may be considered (always check manufacturers instructions). A few infant-only car seats indicate a different recline angle for heavier children. Also, moving the child into a rear-facing convertible may allow him/her to sit in a more upright position, while still achieving the safety benefits of rear-facing. Children also have more growing room in a rear-facing convertible seat. Keep him rear-facing until he reaches the maximum rear-facing weight (30 - 45 lbs) or height for that seat. A child is too tall for a rear-facing seat when the top of his/her head is within 1" of the top of the seat shell. Remember, there is no maximum age for rear-facing and longer is better!

Is there any advice you can give me for installing and using my rear-facing seat? 

Follow your car seat and vehicle manufacturer instruction manual.  In addition, Partners for Child Passenger Safety has a Web site featuring video clips, highlighting rear-facing seats, forward-facing seats, booster seats and LATCH.  Click here to visit their Web site.

To locate a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician or Car Seat Fitting Station, contact Maryland Kids In Safety Seats at 800-370-SEAT or go to www.mdkiss.org and go to the link for "Car Seat Inspections."

Forward-facing:

I am expecting a second baby soon. Where is the safest place in the car to put my 3 year-old child's forward facing seat?

The safest place for your three-year old depends on the type of seat you have, the number and location of the seating positions in your car, as well as the type of seatbelts in your vehicle.

If it is possible to position the two car seats next to each other, then ideally your child's forward-facing seat could be placed in the center position, with the top tether secured. A forward-facing child benefits from the center position because that position often provides as much space as possible in front and to the sides.

A child in a rear-facing seat is typically the safest passenger in your vehicle, during frontal and side impact collisions. It often works best to position the infant's seat in the back seat position with the most space. (Many families select the passenger side in the back seat because they have more flexibility in moving and keeping the front seat forward).

The method of car seat installation selected can influence how well two seats "fit" next to each other. For example, if a car seat is installed with LATCH next to the door, it might sit closer to the center of the vehicle than if the seat belt was used to install the car seat.

If two seats do not fit next to each other, a different (narrower) car seat might work better. Some brands and models of car seats are marketed to fit in smaller spaces.

Placing each seat in an outboard position (next to the door) might be necessary due to car seat size, sibling behavior, or other family needs. Follow the car seat instructions to install the seats securely and harness the child correctly. And remember to use the top tether for your forward-facing car seat! [link to SRN "A Tether Is Better"]

My child complains about the straps being too tight on his car seat. What should I do?

First check to make sure your child is not too heavy or tall for the harness. This information can be found in the car seat instruction manual and on the seat's labels. It is dangerous to exceed the weight limit on a car seat, so it might be necessary to select another seat with a higher weight limit. This chart provides a list of harness options above 40 pounds.

Also check to make sure that you have the straps threaded through the proper slots. For forward-facing seats the harness should be threaded at or above the child's shoulders. If the straps are at shoulder level, move the straps up to the next slot (if available). If none of these apply, then check the snugness of the straps. You should not be able to pinch or fold webbing at the collarbone and pull webbing away from the child’s body, but the straps should not be so tight as to cut into the skin.

Is there any advice you can give me for installing and using my forward-facing seat? 

Follow your car seat and vehicle manufacturer instruction manual.  In addition, Partners for Child Passenger Safety has a Web site featuring video clips, highlighting rear-facing seats, forward-facing seats, booster seats and LATCH.
Click here to visit their Web site.

How long should I keep my 4 year old, 45 pound child in a car seat harness?

First check your car seat instruction manual to find out the maximum weight and height limits on the car seat harness.  In the past, most car seat harness systems could be used to only 40 lbs and a limited height.  Today's seats often have forward-facing harness systems that may be used to 50-80 pounds and taller heights.  If your car seat has an extended weight and height harness system and your child can fit the harness, it is best to continue using it because the harness provides the best protection.  Move your child to the next seat (booster seat) only after s/he outgrows the current seat by weight or height.

Booster Seat:

We just bought a booster seat and it seems so unsafe! It slides around the car and isn't attached to anything. Is that right?

A booster seat is designed to raise a child up to correctly fit into a seat belt that is sized for an adult.  When a child is seated in a booster, the lap and shoulder belt should fit the child the same way it does an adult.  Boosters do not attach to the vehicle like a car seat.  You simply place the booster on the vehicle seat, sit the child on it and buckle the lap and shoulder belt correctly around the child.

One feature that some booster seats now have are non-skid pads on the bottom of the booster. This is designed to minimize how much it slides around.  But, for safest practice, be sure to buckle an unused booster seat, or place it on the floor so that if the vehicle stops suddenly, the booster seat does not fly around inside the vehicle.

Some young and/or active children do not keep the seat belt across their body or sit upright the entire ride - which could be very unsafe! It is important to determine whether your child is mature enough to stay seated in a booster seat. Keeping a child in a car seat with a harness system or a safety vest might be a better option. Click this link, "Booster Seats and Other Products for Children Over 40 Pounds", for a list of seats with weight limits above 40 pounds and other helpful information.

When is my child ready to sit in the car without a booster seat?

The "Gold Star" standard for determining when a child is ready to be graduated out of the booster seat is called the 5-Step Test. 

While viewing the child sitting buckled up on the vehicle seat, ask yourself these five questions:

  • Can the child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?
  • Do the child's knees bend naturally over the edge of the seat?
  • Does the shoulder belt cross the center of the upper chest?
  • Does the lap belt sit low and snug across the hipbone, touching the thighs?
  • Can the child sit like this for the entire trip?

If you answered "NO" to any of these questions, your child should keep using a booster.
If your child will be riding in more than one vehicle, it is important to ensure that s/he takes the 5-Step Test for each car. All vehicles are not made the same; in one car a child may not need a booster and in another car, he may need a booster.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that children can use adult seat belts once they reach 4' 9", not all children are built the same. Some children may benefit from continued use of the booster seat even after reaching this height guideline. This is why the 5-Step Test is the best guideline.

Is there any advice you can give me for installing and using my booster seat? 

Follow your car seat and vehicle manufacturer instruction manual.  In addition, Partners for Child Passenger Safety has a Web site featuring video clips, highlighting rear-facing seats, forward-facing seats, booster seats and LATCH. Click here to visit their Web site.

General:

Important car seat features ("Which car seat is best?")

KISS cannot endorse specific manufacturers or models but we can recommend features to look for, such as:

  • Multiple sets of harness slots

The more harness height adjustment slots available, the better you are able to adjust the harness to fit your child.

  • Multiple sets of crotch strap slots 

The more crotch strap slots available, the better you are able to adjust the harness to fit your child.

  • Harness Style

There are two types of harness styles currently available on the market: a 5-Point harness (click here for a photo) and Tray shield (click here for a photo).  While both styles provide protection, we typically recommend a 5-Point Harness system because it allows the harness to contact your child along the entire torso and across the hips. 

  • Ease of harness adjusters

Front harness adjusters allow easy access, to tighten and loosen and adjust the height of the harness straps.  When the harness is easier to use, parents are more likely to achieve the correct harness snugness. [Click here for photos showing the difference between a back-adjusted harness and front-adjusted harness] Ease of use becomes important during fall/winter/spring months, when parents constantly need to adjust the harness snugness for weather conditions.

  • EPS Foam

EPS foam is the same material added to bicycle helmets to better distribute crash forces.  Many car seat manufacturers are adding EPS foam to their seats to further improve the safety of the car seat.

  • Side-Impact Protection

Currently the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) does not require or test car seats for side-impact protection. However, some car seat manufacturers have designed head-wings, special inserts or reinforced shells which they claim will improve a child's protection during a side-impact collision.

  • Compatibility

Since compatibility between safety seats and vehicles varies, it is a good idea to try and install the safety seat in your car before making a purchase.  Ask the store from which you plan to purchase your car seat if you can test the compatibility of the seat prior to purchasing it.  Remember to follow both the child safety seat and vehicle manufacturer's instructions. For a limited database of compatibility between vehicle models and some car seat models, go to www.carseatdata.org

  • LATCH Connector Design

LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) connectors on harnessed car seats come in two types of styles: hook-on connectors and push-on connectors. Many parents prefer to use the push-on style connectors if the vehicle's Lower Anchor bars are deeply recessed or if the car seat will be removed from the car on a regular basis. [insert photos of different connectors]

Which car seat is best for children who are considered "tall" or "heavy" for their age?
Height:

  • When rear-facing, the top of a child's head must be at least 1" below the top of the car seat. Typically, a convertible seat with a higher harness weight limit can accommodate a taller child in the rear-facing position. Always check the labels/instructions for height limits.
  • Children with long torsos in a forward-facing car seat will need a car seat with taller shoulder slots to allow room for shoulder height and proper harness positioning. A combination harness/booster seat or forward-facing seat with a higher weight limit should provide more harness height. When shopping for a car seat, it is a good idea to bring a tape measure to the store to determine which seat has the tallest harness slots. (Most car seats for tall children have top harness slots measuring at least 17".)

Click here to view a list of seats with harness weight limits above 40 pound.

Weight:

  • Many infants who gain weight quickly will need to be moved to a rear-facing convertible with a higher rear-facing harness weight limit, unless they ride in an infant-only carrier with a weight limit of 30+ pounds.
  • Toddlers who outgrow the traditional 40 pound harness system will need a car seat rated to 50-80 pounds to allow them to continue to ride in a full harness.  
  • Where can I get my car seat installed?
  • Maryland has a network of volunteers and agencies that provide car seat inspections for the public.  These sites, called Permanent Fitting Stations, are run by appointment only and availability varies by organization.  KISS asks that you call our Helpline directly at 800-370-SEAT for a site nearest you so that we may match you with the most appropriate site based on your need. 

    However, it is very important to realize that these are inspection sites, not installation sites.  So, once your appointment is made, we suggest that you...
  • Pre-install the car seat(s), if at all possible.  The point of this service is education, not installation.  The technician is there to double check your work, and teach you how to correct your work if necessary. 
  • Please read your owner's manuals for both the car seat and vehicle, prior to your appointment. This will ensure an efficient and comprehensive education process.
  • Ask questions if you don't understand something.  This is your child and car seat- you need to know how to re-install it prior to leaving the appointment.  You will be expected to get into the vehicle, and work with the technician.

The goal is to the learn how to do it yourself (you can do it!) so that when the car seat is taken out of the car for some reason, you don't have to wait for another appointment to re-install your seat.

How do I know if my seat has been recalled?

Call your car seat manufacturer and provide them with the model of the seat, the model number and the date of manufacture.

  • Contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at 1-888-327-4236 or online at: http://www.safercar.gov

How long can I use my car seat?

Most car seats "expire" approximately six years after the manufacture date.  Some models may be used for a longer period of time so always check your owner's manual, call the manufacturer directly or look for an imprint in the shell of the car seat or a label on the car seat to find out when your seat is too old to use. If it has expired, you should not continue to use it.

Is it safe to use a previously owned car seat?

Some previously owned car seats look "nearly new" and may have been used for a few months by a relative or friend. Others may have an unknown history and/or may be dangerous to use due to a safety recall, missing parts, or a previous crash. Because a car seat is a device intended to protect your child, it should be in perfect condition.

If you are not able to purchase a new car seat for your child, a used car seat should be checked thoroughly for the following:

  • The original owner of the seat can verify that the seat has not been in a crash
  • No labels or other identifying information are missing from the seat
  • The seat has not expired
  • The harness straps are intact and not frayed
  • The frame is crack/dent free
  • The seat still has all its parts
  • The instructions are still with the seat
  • The seat has a current FMVSS213 compliance label
  • The seat has not been recalled

You can register the car seat for safety recalls online at www.safercar.gov

My car seat was in a car crash. Can I still use it?

Always check with your car seat's instructions to find out what to do in the event of a car crash. Maryland law says that a car seat must be used according to manufacturer's instructions.  Read through the car seat owner's manual to see if there is a statement about crashed seats or contact the manufacturer directly.  If the manufacturer says to replace the seat after a crash, you must replace the seat.

In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that a car seat be replaced if it is involved in a moderate or severe crash. Make sure you include the car seat(s) in the police crash report, and discuss car seat replacement with  your insurance claim representatives.
In the event of a minor crash (see criteria below), your seat may not have to be replaced. Your crash was minor if:

  • Upon visual inspection of the seat, no cracks or deformities were found.
  • The vehicle that the car seat was in during the crash was driven away from the scene
  • Vehicle door nearest the vehicle seat was undamaged.
  • There were no injuries to any occupants of the vehicle in the crash.
  • The vehicle air bags did not deploy.

However, NHTSA always recommends you follow the car seat manufacturer advice on crashed seats.

My child won't stay in his seat and tries to escape. What can I do?

There is no "escape-proof" seat. However, there are a few things you should check that could be allowing your child to get out of his seat.

  • Make sure that the harness straps are properly threaded through the correct slots.
  • Adjust the harness straps so that they are snug and flat against your child's body. A properly harnessed child should not be able to lean forward enough to reach or release his buckle. You should not be able to pinch the straps together and pull the webbing away from the collarbone or slide more than one finger beneath the straps at the collarbone. Check to make sure that the harness retainer clip is at armpit level.
  • If your child unbuckles a five-point harness system, a tray-shield might hide the buckle from the child's view and access.
  • If your child keeps unbuckling his seat, contact your seat manufacturer to see if they can provide you with a stronger buckle. These buckles require more pressure to release than the normal buckle and will prevent your child from releasing it.

Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Set an example for your child. Children are born imitators. If they see Mommy or Daddy buckling up they want to be buckled up, too.
  • Be consistent! Always, always, always buckle your child in. Deciding not to buckle your child in for "short trips" confuses them and the next time they're in the car they won't want to be buckled. If your children ride with other family members or friends, be sure that they practice the same buckling habits for your child.
  • Plan breaks. No one likes to sit still for long periods of time, especially children. For long trips, schedule breaks during which children can stretch and run around.
  • Involve your child. Before trips in the car, take a doll or stuffed animal and let your child practice buckling it in. While doing this, remind your child that the car seat and the buckles help keep her and the doll safe.
  • Pack a fun bag. Children often get bored on long car trips. Pack a bag with snacks, books, favorite dolls and games to keep them entertained. This will help keep their mind off being buckled in the seat.

How do I know if the harness is correct?

Specific manufacturer's instructions may vary a bit but here are some general guidelines:

  • For rear-facing seats, the harness should be threaded so that the harness is AT or BELOW shoulder level.
  • Forward-facing seats should be threaded so that the harness is AT or ABOVE shoulder level.
  • The harness clip should be positioned at armpit level and the straps should lay flat against the body.
  • The harness should be snug on the child. Test the snugness of the harness by pinching the webbing of the harness at the collarbone. If you can pinch any amount of webbing then the harness is too loose.

I have heard that I should not dress my child in snow suit or bulky coats.  Why not?

Your child should not wear bulky coats or blankets while in her car seat because the extra padding and cushioning creates more space between your baby and the harness. During a crash, all of the air in puffy coats and snowsuits is compressed and the child will be left with a dangerously loose harness.  This will allow the baby to move forward more than they would if they were wearing less bulky fabrics. Instead of dressing your baby in bulky clothing, drape a blanket or the baby's coat over top of the child or the seat after correctly securing the child in the seat. [Click here for a photo example]

Installation/LATCH:

How can I tell if my seat is installed tightly?

Pull your car seat at the belt path (where the seat belt passes through the car seat or where the LATCH has been attached to the vehicle) to the left and right, front and back. If you can move the seat more than one inch in any direction your seat is not installed tightly enough.

How do I know if my car has LATCH?

The LATCH system was phased in from 1999 - 2002. All passenger vehicles have been equipped with top tether anchors since September 2000. Lower anchors were required in all passenger vehicles by September 2002. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual, (or call the manufacturer with the VIN number if you do not have an owner’s manual) to find out whether your vehicle is equipped with LATCH and how you locate the anchor points.

Is the LATCH system safer than the seatbelt?

  • All car seats are manufactured to the same specific safety standards. Whether or not you install your car seat using LATCH does not make it more or less safe than a seat that is installed using a seatbelt.
  • Remember, just because your car/car seat is equipped with LATCH does not mean you can not install the car seat with the seat belt. It may be difficult to achieve a tight installation using LATCH in some vehicles or with certain car seats. Sometimes a car seat installed with LATCH overlaps two seating positions and reduces the number of back seat passengers. When this happens, use the seat belt instead of LATCH to install the car seat.

Can I use the top tether when I don't use LATCH?

  • When installing a forward-facing car seat with the seatbelt, it is very important to use the top tether whenever possible. A top tether reduces the forward movement of a child's head and the car seat during a frontal collision. It may also stabilize the car seat during a side-impact collision.
  • If your older vehicle does not have factory installed top tether anchors, you can usually purchase a top tether anchor kit to retrofit your vehicle. The retrofit kit, obtained through the vehicle manufacturer parts department, is specific to your vehicle's make, model, year and seating position. Call Kids In Safety Seats at 800-370-SEAT for more information.

Can I install my car seat using LATCH and the seatbelt?

  • You should never use LATCH and the seat belt together (unless specified by the car seat manufacturer's instructions). They are both designed to perform the same job. One is not safer than the other. Almost all car seat and vehicle manufacturers instruct users to NOT use both systems at the same time. Choose the installation method that is easiest for you, in your vehicle.
  • When a car seat is installed with LATCH, it IS a good idea to buckle the seat belt (behind the car seat) and switch the belt into the locked position (see the vehicle instruction manual) so that it is not possible for a child to become entangled in the unused seat belt.

Can I use LATCH in the rear center position?

You can use LATCH in the rear center position only if the owner's manual to your vehicle and car seat designates that position for LATCH (many do not).

Can I use a tether on my rear-facing seat?

You can use a tether on a rear-facing seat only if the instruction manual to your car seat permits it. Currently, Britax and Sunshine Kids sell convertible car seats which can be tethered rear-facing and forward-facing.