Child Safety: One Minute Safety Seat Checklist

Using a safety seat correctly makes a big difference. A child safety seat may not protect your child in a crash if it isn't used correctly and installed properly in your vehicle. Take a minute to Check To Be Sure...

  • All Children age 12 and under should ride properly restrained in the back seat!!!
  • Never place a rear-facing child safety seat in the front seat where a front mounted passenger air bag is present.

Do You Have and Understand the Instructions? 

  • Always read the child seat use and installation instruction manual.
  • Read your vehicle owner's manual seat belt and child seat installation section.

Does Your Child Ride in the Correct Safety Seat? 

Infants, from birth to age one, and at least 20 pounds
should ride in the back seat in a rear facing safety seat.

  • Harness straps should be at or below the infant's shoulders.
  • Harness straps should fit snugly. The straps should lie in a relatively straight line without sagging.
  • The harness chest clip should be placed at the infant's armpit level. This keeps the harness straps positioned properly.
  • Infants weighing 20 pounds or more before age one should ride rear facing in a convertible child safety seat rated for heavier infants (some convertible seats are rated up to 30-35 pounds rear facing).

Children over one year and at least 20 pounds may ride in a forward facing child safety seat in the back seat. Children should ride in a safety seat with full harness until they weigh about 40 pounds.

  • Harness straps should be at or above child's shoulders.
  • Harness straps should be threaded through the top slots, in most cases.
  • Harness should be snug. Straps should lie in a relatively straight line without sagging.
  • Harness chest clip should be at the child's armpit level, which help keep the harness straps positioned properly on the child's shoulders.

The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) System is designed to make installation of child safety seats easier by requiring child safety seats to be installed without using the vehicle's seat belt system. As of September, 1999, all new forward facing child safety seats (not including booster seats) have to meet stricter head protection requirements, which calls for a top tether strap. This adjustable strap is attached to the back of a child safety seat. It has a hook for securing the seat to a tether anchor found either on the rear shelf area of the vehicle or, in the case of mini-vans and station wagons, on the rear floor or the on the back of the rear seat of the vehicle. As of September, 2000, all new cars, minivans, and light trucks will have this tether anchor.

By September 1, 2002, two rear seating positions of all cars, minivans and light trucks will come equipped with lower child safety seat anchorage points located between a vehicle's seat cushion and seat back. Also by September 1, 2002, all child safety seats will have two attachments which will connect to the vehicle's lower anchorage attachment points.

Together, the lower anchors and upper tethers make up the LATCH system.

All children who have outgrown child safety seats should be properly restrained in booster seats until they are at least 8 years old, unless they are 4'9" tall.

  • Belt-positioning boosters can only be used with both the lap and shoulder belt across the child. The shoulder belt should be snug against the child's chest, resting across the collar bone. The lap belt should lay low across the child's upper thigh area.
  • Boosters should be used as "in between" safety devices for children over 40 pounds who have outgrown a forward-facing child seat.
  • Booster seats should be used until the child can sit with his/her back against the vehicle seat back cushion, knees bent over the seat cushion edge, and feet on the floor, approximately 4'9". Belt positioning booster must be used with a lap and shoulder belt

If only a lap belt is available in the rear seating positions, an option may be to contact the vehicle dealer to see if retrofit shoulder belts can be installed. Another option may be to install products which can be used with a lap belt only such as a specialty-made harness or vest. Contact the Auto Safety Hotline at (888) 327-4236 for additional information.

For more about Children's Health, please visit the Healthy Kids Center.


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Last Editorial Review: 4/21/2003