Vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death for children, and West Virginia University Extension Service experts say that in 33 percent of those cases children were not restrained in a car seat or seatbelt, putting them at a greater risk.

According to WVU Safety and Health Extension experts, practicing proper child passenger safety using seatbelts and car seats can significantly reduce the chance of injury or fatality.

There are several types of car seats available, and it’s vital to ensure you select and install the appropriate seat for your child. As children grow, seats must be adapted for each stage of their life.

“Many new parents, and sometimes experienced parents, purchase the most expensive car seat available with the idea that higher price means a safer car seat,” said Ann Dugan, WVU Safety and Health Extension specialist.

“You don’t have to purchase the most expensive brand to get a safe and functional car seat. It is just as important to use a seat properly to gain the most benefit from your purchase.”

Aside from price, the “user friendliness” of a car seat is an important feature to consider when making a purchase, especially if you plan to move it from one vehicle to another, or take it in and out of your car.

Dugan says that purchasing the correct seat for the child’s age, weight and height is perhaps the most important point to consider when selecting a car seat.

The seat should fit securely in your vehicle, with no more than one inch of “give” when moved from side to side, and front to back.

Avoid used or older car seats, unless you know the seat’s history. Manufacturers are required to label every car seat with an expiration date, and most seats should be replaced at least every six years.

Complete a car seat registration card—online or by mail—after purchase. New child safety seats have a registration card, allowing companies to notify registrants of product recalls.

It’s recommended to never position a rear-facing seat upright at a 90 degree angle. It can force the child’s head forward and restrict breathing. Always position a rear-facing seat in a rear-facing direction.

“Every time you use a car seat, be sure the seatbelt or LATCH belt is following the correct path through the child’s car seat,” remarked Doug McDonald, WVU Safety and Health Extension specialist. “Keep the belt flat and ensure there are no tangled or folded areas.”

Confirm the car seat’s harness is appropriately configured. The chest clip should be level at the child’s armpits. The straps must be snug, straight and flat. The top of the child’s head should be at least one inch from the top of the seat in a rear-facing car seat.

Infants and children up to age 2
When buying a car seat for an infant, choose a rear-facing model which provides the most support and protection to the head, neck and spine. Infants should ride in rear-facing seats until age 2, or when they have reached the seat’s weight and height limits—whichever comes first.

The earliest age and weight that a child can start to ride in a forward-facing seat is when a child reaches 1 year and 20 pounds.

“Rear-facing car seats offer the most support to infants and children to reduce crash force impact,” explained McDonald.

Children age 1 – 7
Forward-facing car seats are recommended for infants and children age 1-7.

Once children have reached 2-years-old, or the maximum height and weight restrictions of the rear-facing car seat, they are able to ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

When using a forward-facing car seat, ensure the harness straps are above or at-level with the child’s shoulders. If they are below the shoulders, the straps may need to be moved to a higher slot position or the forward-facing seat is too small. The child may need to use a booster seat instead.

It is recommended to use the top tether of a forward-facing car seat until the child weighs 40 pounds. The harness and top tether provide upper torso, head and neck protection.

Car seats manufactured after February 2014 have labels regarding the appropriate height and weight limits for the anchors and tethers.

Children age 4 – 12
Once children weigh 65-80 pounds, are between the ages of 4 and 7, or have outgrown the harness of forward-facing car seats, they can ride in a booster seat.

Booster seats typically serve as a safe ride for children who are under 4 foot 9 inches. If a child’s knees don’t bend while sitting in a booster seat, the child does not meet the minimum size requirements to keep them safe and should be in a car seat instead.

Use booster seats in conjunction with the vehicle’s seat belt. Ensure the shoulder belt comes across the collar bone, is snug across the chest, and the lap belt is snug across the child’s hip bones—not across the stomach. Use the vehicle’s adjustable headrest to provide support to the child’s head and neck.

McDonald says that by around age 9 most kids have outgrown a booster seat and can ride safely in a vehicle with a seatbelt only.

“There has been a necessary cultural shift in the way we view child passenger safety in our vehicles. The days of allowing children to ride “shot-gun” is becoming a thing of the past,” explained McDonald.

Research data from 2011 shows that restraints saved the lives of 263 children that were 4 years and younger. Researchers say that ensuring kids 12 years and younger are riding in the back seat can save even more lives by reducing the risk of injury or death from airbag deployment.

It’s crucial to consult car seat and vehicle manuals for exact specifications and guidance when using and installing a child safety seat.

Dugan and McDonald will be onsite at the Goodwill store in the Mountaineer Mall on Sept. 25 and 26 from 10a.m.-1p.m. to demonstrate proper installation, fitting and usage of child car seats.

To schedule a child passenger safety demonstration at your event, contact Dugan at 304-293-1329, or e-mail

To learn more about car safety and child passenger seat safety, visit



CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service

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