Choosing the Right Car Seat for Your Child

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death for children under the age of 12 years old. An important way to significantly reduce the risk of injury or death in a car accident is for children to be properly restrained. In fact, the CDC reports that the use of proper child safety seats with restraints reduces the risk of injury to a child in a vehicle accident by more than 50%.

Pennsylvania Car Seat Law

child car seat regulationsPennsylvania’s Child Protection Safety Law is designed to protect children who are passengers in passenger cars, trucks, classic cars and motor homes. Children must be properly secured in the appropriate style of child safety seat. This means that children who are 0 – 3 years old must be restrained in a federally-approved child safety restraint system that is secured to the vehicle using a seat belt or a tethering system. Children who are 4 – 7 years old must at a minimum use booster seats in conjunction with lap and shoulder belts. Children who are 8 – 17 years old must at a minimum wear seat belts. It is the responsibility of the driver to make sure that children are properly secured in appropriate child safety or booster seats. Drivers who violate these rules can receive a ticket in the maximum amount of $100. However, the ticket will be dismissed upon showing proof that an appropriate child safety seat or booster seat has been purchased.

Selecting an Appropriate Car Seat

When selecting a car seat you must consider the age, size and weight of your child. Make sure that the seat has a label indicating that it meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards. Since child safety seat standards and features are constantly changing, buying a used child safety seat is not recommended. Furthermore, once you purchase the seat make sure that you register it with the manufacture through the manufacturer’s website. If you do so, you will be informed if there is a recall. The National Highway Safety Transportation Association (NHTSA) shares these guidelines for choosing a car seat for your little one:
  • car seat safety infantsBirth – 12 months.  Babies who are less than 1 year old should always ride in rear-facing car seats in the back seat of the car. Typically infant car seats are designed for children who weigh up to 22 – 35 pounds. Make sure you read the manufacturer’s guidelines as to child weight and height limits. If your child reaches the weight or height limit before he or she is 1 year old, you should purchase a new rear-facing car seat that will accommodate your child’s size.
  • 1 – 3 Years.  It is preferable to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible. Rear-facing is the safest position for your child in this age group. Keep your child rear-facing until he or she reaches the maximum weight or height limit per the manufacturer’s recommendation of their car seat. Forward-facing seats are designed for children 20 to 80 pounds. Once your child is too big for his or her rear-facing seat, you can switch to a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. Like children who use rear-facing child safety seats, children in forward-facing seats should always ride in the back seat.
  • seat belt booster seat4 – 7 Years.  Keep your child in their forward-facing car seat until he or she reaches the maximum height or weight limit of that seat. At that time, you can transition to a booster seat, which is appropriate for children who are 4 to 7 years old. Unlike rear and forward-facing child safety seats, booster seats do not have harnesses. Children sit in the booster seat and use the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts. Some booster seats come with detachable backs. As the child grows, the back will no longer be necessary. The most recent studies suggest that children use a booster seat until they are 80 pounds, so make sure that your child’s booster seat can accommodate a child of that size. Children should continue to ride in the back seat while they are in booster seats.

Installing a Car Seat

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions as to how to properly install your child’s car seat or booster seat. It is also important that the harness or seat belt is properly adjusted based on your child’s size. A car seat that is not properly installed will not provide maximum protection for your child. Once you install it you can take it to a car seat inspection site to be checked. The federal government has set up such sites in many locations across the country. To find a location near you, see For more information on selecting, installing and registering a child safety seat, visit the NHTSA’s Parents Central website.harness tether forward-facing car seat