Car Seat Safety
Your little one is going places. Help him or her get there safely with these guidelines.
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In Virginia, all children must use a properly installed car or booster seat that meets Department of Transportation standards until their 8th birthday. The best safety practice is to continue to use booster seats until children are able to fit in an adult seat belt (at about 4'9" tall and 80 pounds). The seat must be properly installed and used whenever a child rides in any car, including a grandparent’s or babysitter’s.
Virginia law also states that drivers are responsible for making sure that children who have outgrown booster seats are properly restrained using the vehicle lap and shoulder belts. If children in a car are not properly secured, a driver can be stopped and given a ticket, even if no other safety violation occurs. Remember, the safest place for all children is in the back seat until they are old enough to drive!
Guidelines By Age
Infants must always ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are 2 years old.
Choose an infant-only car seat/carrier or a rear-facing convertible seat that fits your baby by weight and height. The seat must fit in the back seat of the vehicle; it should never be placed in the front seat of a vehicle with passenger-side air bags.
Secure harness straps at or below shoulder level in one of the lowest slots, snugly against the body. The chest clip should be secured at armpit level.
There must be adequate space in the vehicle for the seat to be reclined at the proper angle according to the car seat manual. Newborns should be reclined at a 45-degree angle.
Your baby has outgrown the seat when he exceeds the weight limit or his head is within 1 inch from the top of the seat.
Toddler (up to age 4)
It is recommended that toddlers remain rear-facing until age 2. Use a convertible car seat that has a rear-facing limit of 30-40 pounds. Rear facing provides greater crash protection.
Children ages 2 to 4 may ride forward facing in a convertible or forward-facing seat in an upright position. Use a car seat with a harness system for as long as possible (up to 65-85 pounds).
Children who are more than 4 years old and 40 pounds can remain in a five-point harness car seat with a high weight limit, or move into a belt-positioning booster seat. NEVER place seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has a passenger-side air bag. For best protection, booster seats should be used until the child is 4 feet 9 inches tall, which is usually around the age of 8-10.
High-back boosters may provide better upper body crash protection than the no-back type.
For heavier or taller children who are not ready to sit safely in a booster seat, look for a car seat with a harness crash tested to hold 65-85 pounds, or consult the CHKD special needs car seat program for assistance.
To ride without a booster seat, children should be tall enough to sit all the way back with knees bent at the edge of the seat with feet on the floor, and be able to maintain this position at all times. The belt should cross over the child’s upper thighs, shoulder and collar bone. Never allow the child to move the shoulder belt under his arm or behind his back. If a child is 8 years old, weighs more than 80 pounds, and is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, he should be ready for the vehicle lap and shoulder belts.
Things To Keep In Mind
- Never take a child out of a safety seat while the car is in motion.
- The back seat is the safest place for children under age 13. Never place an infant or child in under 13 in the front seat of a vehicle with airbags. If this seat is needed to transport children, your auto dealer can assist you with turning off your airbag.
- Always use a car seat that is approved by the Department of Transportation that is functioning correctly.
- Do not alter your car seat in any way. This includes adding any extra padding or positioning products that did not come with the seat, which adds bulk under the child or between the child and the harness straps.
- Remove bulky clothing and coats – these will keep the harness from being snug enough. Warm up the car and/or use blankets over the child after they have been buckled in.
- Harness straps should always be flat and not twisted. DO NOT put harness straps in the washing machine, as this can weaken them.
- Keep a supply of soft toys in the car for play. Do not attach hard plastic toys to the car seats, as they can injure your child in the event of a crash.
- Do not use a car seat that has been involved in a crash. It may be weakened in areas you cannot see.
- Do not use a second-hand car seat if you do not know the previous owners or its history.
- Do not use a car seat that has broken or missing parts.
- During hot weather, always check the car seat parts for hot spots that may burn your child, such as metal harness adjusters or buckles.
- Always complete and return the car seat registration card so you will be notified of any recalls.
- In the case of a crash, do not remove the child from the car seat until medical personnel check for injuries.
Children With Special Needs
Evaluations for children with special transportation needs are available by trained Physical and Occupational Therapists for children who need short or long term travel solutions. Loaner specialty restraints are available for appropriate patients. Click here for more information on the Special Needs Child Passenger Safety Program.
Disposing Of A Car Seat
Most car safety seats come with expiration dates determined by the manufacturer. If you can’t find the expiration date, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association recommends that a car seat be disposed of six years from its manufacture date. Also, if a car seat had to be replaced because it was involved in a crash, the old one must be disposed of.
You can dispose of a car seat by taking it to an AAA Service Center. Some DMV offices will also accept car seats. If you can’t get to one of those places, you can dispose of an unsafe car seat by destroying it. That way there’s no chance of it being found and reused.
For further information, please call (757) 668-8655.
Car Seat Assistance For Low-Income Virginia Residents
There are assistance programs for low-income Virginia residents who cannot afford to purchase a child safety seat. Please contact your local health department or call CHKD at (757) 668-8655 for more information.