Car seat safety starts with ensuring the car seat is securely fastened against the regular adult seat using the safety belts included in the vehicle. Car seats often come with specific instructions as to how the belt should be fastened, so the purchaser should be sure to read these directions carefully and check the seat regularly to ensure tangles have not occurred, or to make sure a child has not released the safety belt. Proper car seat safety dictates that the car seat should be placed in the back seat to reduce the risk of injury to a child in the event of a car accident.
Many child seats can be placed either forward- or backward-facing, and the seat belt configuration will change depending on the seat's orientation. Be sure to run the seat belt through the car seat properly for the given orientation to prevent the seat from coming loose and potentially causing injury. Infants should face the rear of the vehicle, while older children should face front. Car seat safety will continue by ensuring the shoulder harness is properly installed over the child sitting in the seat, and the harness is properly fastened at the buckle. The harness should be snug over the child but not overly tight, and it should be oriented so the face and throat are free and able to move without restriction.
A child should ride in a child seat until he or she is at least one or one and a half years old for optimal car seat safety. Many parents choose to keep the child in a car seat even longer than that, which is fine as long as the child does not outgrow the seat. Once a child becomes too large for a car seat, a booster seat can be used instead to allow the child to use the car's factory seatbelt system. The booster seat will raise the child off the seat to ensure the seat belt runs properly across the hips and chest. It is important to ensure the seat belt is properly positioned on the child to avoid injury in the event of a crash or sudden stop.
For optimal car seat safety, do not buy a used seat or any seat that has been in a car accident. The car seat usually has a shelf life, after which time it should be replaced. Be sure to research the replacement timeline on any model of car seat being considered for purchase.