Car Seat Safety

Are you a first-time parent or grandparent? Are you concerned about fitting multiple children in your vehicle? Do you have questions about when to turn your rear-facing child forward, or when it's time to switch to a booster or seat belt? Do you feel confident that your children are safely secured in the car but want a professional to make sure?

The Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians at North Huntingdon EMS/Rescue are here to help. 

Call us to make an appointment for a FREE car seat, booster, and/or seat belt use safety check. Our Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians are available to teach parents, families, and other caregivers about the latest best-practice safety recommendations and updates to the Pennsylvania State Child Passenger Safety laws. 

Services Provided:

  • Safety evaluations and installations of all child restraint devices: 
    • rear-facing only infant seats and bases
    • convertible (RF/FF) car seats
    • forward-facing only car seats
    • combination and 3-in-1 seats
    • belt-positioning booster seats
    • vehicle seat belts
  • Child restraint device proper use education and training
  • Pennsylvania state child passenger safety law education

What to bring to your appointment:

  • The car seat or booster that you want to install.
  • Your vehicle owner's manual
  • The child restraint device manual. If you do not have the manual, you can call the manufacturer and request that one be mailed to you, or you can search the manufacturer's website for a printable copy of the manual. The CPS Techs at NHEMS/R will help you locate the device manual if needed.
  • If possible, the child who will be riding in the car seat, booster, or using the vehicle seat belt. 

Car seat, booster, and seat belt safety services are available by appointment only. To schedule your appointment, or if you have questions or concerns about child passenger safety, call 724.864.2540.


Frequently Asked Questions About Car Seat Use and Safety

 

What is the best car seat for my child?

The best child restraint device (car seat or booster) is the one that meets the following criteria: 

  • The seat fits your child. 
    • Select a device that is appropriate for your child's height, weight, and developmental needs. Children outgrow car seats and booster seats when their height OR weight exceed the maximum limits described by the device manufacturer. There are a wide variety of options available for children of all sizes. Children who have different developmental needs, such as an older child who has poor head control or low muscle tone, or a child with behavioral challenges, may be safest in a seat with more head and body support designed for a larger child.
  • The seat fits your car. 
    • Child restraint devices fit differently in different vehicles, especially when multiple children are traveling together. A larger rear-facing/forward-facing convertible may not fit well in a compact car or truck. 
    • Some general rules of vehicle fitting:
      • If multiple child restraints are secured in the same seating area, the devices be able to be positioned in such a way that they can all be secured according to the guidelines of the manufacturer. 
      • The vehicle seat backs should not touch the back of a rear-facing car seat.
      • Car seat must be leveled according to the guidelines of the manufacturer. Rear-facing seats require a more reclined position to accommodate younger babies and children with poor head control who could suffocate if their heads fall forward and they are unable to lift them to open their airway.
      • Car seat must be tightly secured to the vehicle seat and should not move more than half an inch side-to-side and forward-to-back. 
  • You can use the seat correctly every time. 
    • You should be confident that you can correctly secure your child in their car seat or booster every time they ride in it. You should be able to adjust the features of the device, such as the harness, without difficulty. You should be able to lift and move the seat if needed without injuring yourself or your child.


Which car seat is safest?

All child restraint devices must meet the safety standards outlined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The manufacturers of child restraint devices are responsible for testing their products for compliance with the safety standards and reporting to the NHTSA. Recently, side-impact testing was made standard for all child restraint devices. Many car seats and boosters exceed the minimum safety standards. 


What is the difference between a $50 seat and a $500 seat?

Car seats and boosters increase in price as the materials and features change. As mentioned above, ALL car seats and boosters must meet the same minimum safety standards. 


When can I turn my rear-facing child around to forward-facing?

PA law states that all children under 2 years of age MUST be secured in an appropriate rear-facing child restraint device. This could be a rear-facing only infant seat or a convertible seat, depending on what the best option is for you. The best-practice recommendation is that you keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. A baby or young child's body is proportioned much differently than an adult (notably the ratio of head to body size), and in the event of a crash, the rear-facing position best protects the child's head, neck, and spine. Many caregivers are concerned that older and larger children will sustain lower body injuries if they are rear-facing during a crash. The incidence of those type of injuries is very low and the consequences much less severe than a head, neck, or spine injury.There is no law that requires your child to be turned around at a certain point. As long as your child meets the rear-facing height and weight requirements of the car seat, they can stay rear-facing. There are multiple options available for seats that allow children over 30" tall and over 30lbs to ride rear-facing.


When can my child switch to a booster?

PA law states that all children 4 to 8 years of age must be secured in an appropriate seat belt system and belt-positioning booster seat. Children younger than 4 years of age must be secured in an appropriate child restraint device (rear-facing or forward facing car seat). If your child is between 4 and 8 years of age and still meets the height and age requirements for a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness, the best-practice recommendation is that you continue to use that device. One of the most common mistakes made by caregivers is moving a child out of a harness system too soon. Smaller children and children with different physical needs (such as low muscle tone) are more safe in a 5-point harness system. There are multiple options available for devices with higher height and weight limits that also include a 5-point harness system. If your child is over 4 years of age and exceeds the height OR weight limits of their forward-facing car seat, and they are able to support themselves in an upright seated position for the entire ride, and if a belt-positioning booster seat can help the child achieve the correct fit for a seat belt, it may be appropriate to transition the child to a booster. There is no law that states that a child MUST use a belt-positioning booster by a certain age. The purpose of a booster is to position the vehicle seat belt so that it fits the child correctly: The lap belt portion of the seat belt must fit snugly across the child's hips or upper thighs, with the shoulder belt portion flat across the center of their chest and shoulder, not touching their neck. The booster itself does not restrain the child - the seat belt does. If a child cannot be secured properly with the belt-positioning booster, they should continue to use the 5-point harness device.


When is my child ready to use the regular seat belt?

PA law states that all children aged 8 to 18 years must be secured in an appropriate seat belt system. Older children are often anxious to ditch the "baby seat" and use the "big kid" seat belt. As with younger children, there is no law that states that a child MUST transition to seat belt-only use by a certain age. A child must be able to support themselves in an upright seated position without slouching, with their feet flat on the floor of the vehicle and their knees over the edge of the seat. The lap belt portion of the seat belt must fit snugly across the child's hips or upper thighs, with the shoulder belt portion flat across the center of their chest and shoulder, not touching their neck. The child must be able to remain in this position for the entire ride. If correct seat belt fit isn't possible, the child should continue to use a belt-positioning booster (or 5-point harness device if appropriate). There are multiple options available for boosters that are low-profile and can accommodate larger children who are not ready for seat belt-only use.


What is LATCH?

LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. It is a restraint anchoring system that is standard in all vehicles manufactured since 2002 and can be used instead of a seat belt to secure a car seat (as long as certain requirements for weight and positioning are met). The owner's manual will describe the LATCH system of your particular vehicle. Most car seat use guidelines do not allow for simultaneous use of a seat belt and LATCH system because it could place excessive stress on the seat in the event of a crash. Child restraint devices are crash tested using LATCH and the seat belt separately, not together. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines.


Do I need to read the manual?

YES! The child restraint device manual is the most important source of information about the safe use of the car seat or booster. The device manufacturer has the last word on how the device can be used. If you do not have the manual, simply call the manufacturer and request a manual be sent to your home. Many child restraint device manufacturers also post the manuals online in downloadable and printable PDF format. Manuals are available in multiple languages as well (most newly purchased devices come with an English and Spanish language version). Store the child restraint device manual in the glove box for easy access.


Should I buy a used car seat?

It is not recommended to purchase a used car seat unless you can get an accurate history of its usage. Most importantly, you should know if the device was involved in a crash. If it was, do not purchase it. If you cannot afford a new car seat or booster, there are programs that will provide free or low-cost car seats and boosters for qualifying families. Click here to find a program near you.


What if the car seat or booster was in a crash?

Vehicle crashes cause hidden damage to child restraint devices, even if the car seat or booster was unoccupied or if the crash was minor. The same forces that are applied to the body of the vehicle during a crash also travel through the child restraint device. If a car seat or booster is involved in a crash, it is generally recommended that the device be destroyed, even if a child was not using it at the time. Most vehicle insurance companies will pay for a replacement car seat or booster. If the crash was minor, refer to the device manual for the manufacturer's recommendations on whether or not it is safe to use again. NEVER purchase a used car seat or booster if you are unable to confirm its crash history.


Why shouldn't I use this mirror/strap cover/toy with the car seat?

Only accessories that came with the car seat or booster that were specifically made by the manufacturer for use with that exact device should be used. If it didn't come with the seat, don't use it! Child restraint devices are only guaranteed to meet the NHTSA crash test safety standards when they are used in accordance to the guidelines of the manufacturer, and when you add in additional variables like unapproved after-market accessories, there is a possibility that the accessory could cause the seat to fail and harm your child. For example, harness strap covers are popular, but if they were not specifically made for your exact seat, they could cause the harness to be too loose, which would be dangerous for your child. Accessories like mirrors, extra padding, vehicle seat protectors, and toys can become projectiles in the event of a crash, and could prevent the seat from being properly secured in the vehicle.


My car seat or booster was recalled, what do I do now?

If you sent in the registration card that was included with the car seat or booster, the manufacturer will contact you in the event of a recall. If you become aware that your device was recalled, the best course of action is to call the manufacturer to find out what the next steps are. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as ordering a replacement part (typically provided free of charge by the manufacturer), but it is possible that the manufacturer will advise that the device no longer be used. Click here for a list of the most current child restraint device recalls. 


Car seat, booster, and seat belt safety services are available by appointment only. To schedule your appointment, or if you have questions or concerns about child passenger safety, call 724.864.2540.


Useful Links

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation - Child Passenger Safety
 

Summary of the Pennsylvania Child Passenger Protection Act
 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Resources for Parents and Caregivers
 

Pennsylvania Traffic Injury Prevention Project - Child Passenger Safety Information and Resources
 

American Academy of Pediatrics - Car Safety Seats Information for Parents and Families
 

Safe Kids Worldwide
 

Car Seat Loan Programs
 

PA 211 Child Passenger Safety Seat Resources
 

List of Recalls (as of 5/26/2018)


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