While it’s common knowledge that using the proper car seat is vital for your child’s safety, it’s more complicated than just purchasing one and strapping your child in. Car seat safety has many components- the age and size of your child, properly securing the seat in your vehicle, and even how your child is strapped in make all the difference. 

According to the US Department of Transportation, 46% of car seats and booster seats are used incorrectly. And unfortunately, 42% of child fatalities in 2020 were due to a child not being restrained at all in a moving vehicle. In 2020, motor vehicle accidents resulted in 6,139 hospitalizations and 656 deaths of children under the age of 12. 

While car seats aren’t a guarantee of child safety, they drastically reduce the risk of injury or death of a child when they are used properly. There are several different types of car seats on the market, and each has different height and weight requirements for your child. 

Car Seat Styles and Usage

Rear-facing seats are exactly that- they are only meant to be used to keep a child rear-facing in a vehicle. These seats are used for a child from birth up to a certain height and weight requirement. The pamphlet that comes with the car seat will include the body measurements your child must meet to be in this seat safely. Only when your child meets those body measurements can the child be safely moved into a forward-facing car seat. While at a minimum your child should be rear-facing for the first year, it is recommended that your child stay rear-facing for as long as possible in their first three years of life.

There are child safety seats that can be converted from rear-facing to forward-facing. These often start at a higher weight limit than rear-facing only car seats, so it’s highly recommended you read the information carefully before strapping a newborn baby into this type of seat, as a smaller baby may not weigh enough to use this type of seat. Once the child meets the proper height and weight requirements, this type of seat can then be turned to be forward-facing. A child should remain in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether as long as possible until they meet the top height and weight limit of their car seat. 

At this point, a child can safely be moved to a booster seat. They need to remain in a booster seat until they meet the proper height and weight requirements to be properly restrained by a seat belt only. This means the lap belt must lie snugly over the child’s thighs, not their stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across your child’s shoulder and chest, not their neck or face. 

Correctly installed and properly used car seats can reduce the risk of child death by as much as 71% according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Remember, the safest place for your child is in the backseat, especially if they are under the age of 12. 

Another issue to keep in mind is how to keep your child warm properly when using a car seat. Heavy winter coats cause the harness to be too loose, which could be potentially fatal in case of impact. According to Consumer Reports, it is important that the harness is tight enough that you’re unable to pinch extra material between your thumb and forefinger. In a crash, the extra padding can flatten out, leaving the seatbelt or harness too loose. This rule of thumb applies to adults as well- bulky layers between your body and the seatbelt reduce the effectiveness in a collision. Car seat covers for infant seats are a great way to keep smaller children safe and warm when traveling. Another idea is to keep spare blankets in your vehicle to cover your child for warmth after they are secured appropriately in their car seat or seatbelt. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends keeping an emergency bag packed with blankets, snacks, water, cell phone chargers, and other supplies in case of a roadside emergency.

Common Mistakes
1- Improper Seat Installation: This includes routing the seatbelt through the wrong path, failing to use a top tether for a forward-facing car seat, installing a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat, or using both the car’s seat belt and the car seat’s tethers at the same time. 

2- Incorrect Chest Clip Position: The chest clip on a child’s car seat should be aligned with the child’s armpits. A chest clip that’s too high can cause a neck injury, while a chest clip positioned too low can cause a child to be ejected in a crash. 

3- Wrong Seat For Your Child: Always consult the included manual for your child to determine the correct height and weight for each car seat. You can also consult the National Highway Traffic Safety website for a tool that will use your child’s date of birth, height, and weight to recommend the correct car seat for your child. 

4- Unsafe Car Seat: The safest car seat choice for your child is a brand-new one. Car seats have an expiration date, usually six years from the date it was manufactured. Car seats that are purchased from yard sales or private sellers should be avoided, as you cannot guarantee the car seat is in date. Also, used car seats may have been in a car accident, which can be a potential safety hazard to a child. New car seats include a way to register the car seat and should always be done This ensures you are notified in case the car seat is recalled for any reason in the future. 

Car Seat Safety Inspections

Most states offer several options for when and where you can have your car seat inspected. These events help to ensure the car seat is properly secured in your vehicle. Your local DMV or state service center may be able to give you a place to start. Local police departments may also be able to help. You can also check online for each state to find where and when your car seat can be checked. 

In Delaware: 

State of Delaware Office of Highway Safety 


Safe Kids Worldwide-Delaware


In Maryland: 

Safe Kids Worldwide- Maryland


Maryland Kids in Safety Seats program