Car seats are designed to keep children safe in motor vehicles, but in order to be effective, they must be installed properly and be the right size. Seats that aren’t secured or are the wrong size can put children at risk of injury.
In Texas, the law requires children to be secured in car seats or booster seats if they are 8 years old or younger. However, age is less important than a child’s size, when it comes to determining what type of car seat they need. For example, a child who’s 3 years old and therefore legally able to be placed in a forward-facing car seat might need to ride in a rear-facing seat, if he’s small for his age.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends the following general guidelines for restraining children in cars:
- Rear-facing seats in a car’s back seat for children from birth to age 3; keep children in a rear-facing seat until they outgrow it
- Forward-facing seats, in a car’s back seat, secured by a harness and tether, for children ages 4 through 7
- Booster seat, in the back seat, for children ages 8 through 12; once they outgrow the booster seat, they can ride in the back, wearing a seat belt.
Car seats come with manufacturer recommendations about size, height, and weight limits. Parents should strictly follow those recommendations in order to keep children safe. Additionally, installation instructions should be followed to the letter.
Some instructions can be downright confusing. And if you can’t make sense of them, it may be hard to safely install a car seat. Before buying a seat for your child, check out the NHTSA’s Ease of Use ratings page, which includes information on height and weight limits, as well as the type of harness required.
Used Car Seats and Recalls
Occasionally, car seats are recalled when a dangerous defect is discovered. The easiest way to make sure you’re informed of a car seat recall is to register your car seat on the NHTSA’s Safer Car website – although, very few parents do.
If a generous friend or relative gives you a used car seat when they no longer need it, you’ll need to exercise additional caution before using it. For instance, it’s especially important for parents to register a used seat to check for current or previous recalls. Never purchase or install a car seat that’s:
- Missing the instructions
- Lacks the identifying information you’d need to register it on the recall site
- Is more than 6 years old
- Was in a car during a crash (even a minor fender-bender)
- Shows signs of wear on straps and restraints
- Has visible damage, such as cracks.
Some parents want reassurance that their car seat is safe and properly installed. In Texas, there are 159 authorized child seat inspection locations where you can get a professional assessment of a seat’s safety.
Buy New if Possible
Used car seats can be safe, but it’s always best to buy new when possible, especially given recent developments in car seat safety features.
Evenflo recently released a car seat that’s equipped with a wireless receiver that connects with a dashboard monitor. If the seat senses the chest strap is disengaged, it sends an alert to the dashboard monitor. It also sends an alert any time the car is turned off, so busy parents don’t risk forgetting their little ones are in the back seat, when they’re out running errands.