Four Steps for Kids: Forward-Facing Car Seats

20 Sep

After your child has outgrown their rear-facing seat, they should move to a forward-facing seat with a 5 point harness. There are 5 types of car seats that can be used forward-facing (taken from Car Safety Seats: Information for Families 2011)

  1. Convertible seats—Seats that “convert” from rear-facing to forward-facing seats. These include  some 3-in-1 seats.
  2. Forward-facing only—These seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 80 pounds (depending on the model).
  3. Combination seat with harness—These seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 85 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 80–100 pounds).
  4. Built-in seats—Some vehicles come with forward-facing seats built in. Weight and height limits vary. Read your vehicle owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for details about how to use these seats.
  5. Travel vests—These can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and can be an alternative to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by car safety seats. These vests may require use of a top tether.

The child should remain in a forward-facing seat until they reach the limits of their car seat. These limits are either the maximum forward-facing weight or height limit or when their shoulders are even with the top harness position or when the tips of their ears are even with the top of the seat shell, whichever comes first. In most cases, the weight limit will be 40, 65, or 85 pounds.

Another important factor is age. A child should be at least 4 years old before moving out of a 5 point harness and into a booster, if not 5 or 6 years old, depending on their maturity level. Once a child can remain properly positioned in a belt positioning booster for the entire ride, then it is time to make the switch. If needed, higher height and weight limit seats should be used until the child is mature enough for a belt positioning booster.

When installing a forward-facing seat, here are some things to consider:

  • Make sure the harness is positioned at or above your child’s shoulders.
  • If you are using a convertible seat for forward-facing, make sure the vehicle belt or LATCH strap is routed through the correct belt path of the seat.
  • Always attach the top tether strap on the car seat to an appropriate anchor point in your vehicle. To find these anchor points, read through your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Tethers give important extra protection by keeping the car seat and the child’s head from moving too far forward in a crash or sudden stop.

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