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Car Seat Best Practice, Proper Use and Reality

stage 2 car seat forward facing

Where does your car seat practice fall? Likely somewhere in between car seat best practice and legal minimums.

Car Seat Best Practice according to NHTSA:

  • Use the correct car seat for child and vehicle correctly every time
  • A child should remain rear facing (RF) as long as possible until they reach the RF height or weight limits of their convertible seat
  • Keep child forward facing until the child outgrows the restraint’s height or weight limits (RideSafer is certified for children in this stage as well, as long as they are 3 years old and 30 lbs.)
  • After outgrowing a 5-point harness a child should be in a belt-positioning RideSafer vest or booster until the child can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test
  • Keep child in riding in the back seat until age 13
stage 2 car seat forward facing

versus “Proper Use” which is usually the legal minimum:

  • Varies depending on each state and its child restraint laws but typically:
    • Keep child rear facing until one year old, some states now say 2 years old
    • Keep child in proper child restraint for their age, weight and height based on law and the restraint’s limits

versus Reality:

  • Varies greatly depending on a lot of factors like
    • how well the parents understand best practice,
    • family size,
    • car size,
    • convenience,
    • family’s finances,
    • child’s behavior, etc.

While we and other CPS technicians would always prefer to see everyone follow best practice, the reality is many people just can’t.

most common car seat mistakes

Case in point; our youngest son was 2 and a half when we decided it best to turn him forward facing. Best practice says he should stay rear-facing. He could have fit his seat for another few months before he outgrew the rear-facing height limit. Legally in Colorado, he could have turned forward facing more than a year earlier.

We didn’t want to turn him yet. We kept our older two kids rear-facing until about age 3. They both hit the rear-facing height limit about age 3.

But our youngest hit this stage where he would keep kicking his brother and sister sitting next to him (the joys of fitting 3 across). This was causing injury to his siblings. And, worse, all the screaming and crying going on back there was dangerously distracting to the driver, usually me. We determined it was just becoming an unsafe situation all around, so turned him. And peace ensued… mostly.

And the sad reality is that there are many people who don’t even follow proper use standards.

For instance, the family we drove past who were getting in the car. The mom handed the infant carrier to what looked like mom’s grandma in the back seat. I thought to myself, it would probably be easier to put that in the base without someone sitting there and as we moved up in the turning lane, I saw there was somebody sitting in each position of the back seat. I came to the realization that the family was just going to drive with that person holding the infant carrier in her lap.

Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Now in the past, Greg has been known, usually in his firefighter uniform, to stop and educate people he notices in such situations. But people don’t tend to take to well to strangers pulling up outside their house to “lecture” them and seemingly shake off the information dumped on them by this “know-it-all” and go about their car seat safety business as usual. Much like in the world of coaching (in which we are also trained) where you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached, you can’t educate someone who doesn’t want to be educated.

I know some technicians who try to change the world, as far as parents and car seats go, educating whether or not it was asked of them; and come off to that person as, well, not so nice.

We as technicians have learned to take into account the various situations that can determine how well a family can follow best practice. We share with families best practice guidelines and information about why it’s best practice — sharing the why is sometimes forgotten by technicians but very important for parents to understand. The why sometimes makes all the difference.

Then we help them determine what is the best they can do. When it all comes down to it, though, in the end it’s the parent’s choice. We can only strive to ensure they leave the car seat checkup within legal requirements and as safe as the situation allows. We have to respect that and hope other technicians do as well.

What do you think, where do you fall in the spectrum? Share your comments below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2019 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in October 2014. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

© amie durocher

1 comment

  1. Thanks for shinning light on the fact that RF is not always best.
    Often as techs we tend to focus on an individual child instead of the “bigger picture” that includes perhaps a large family in a smaller vehicle. On a weekly basis I encounter many situations that render RF until 2 … a less than optimal idea when family dynamics and the size of the vehicle are taken into consideration. RF til 2 is generally not an option in a small sedan when the mother just delivered twins and already has 14 month old and the 4 yr old will be riding in the front seat.
    In my view occupant safety for the entire family should be our focus.
    “Best Practice” conversations should also involve more than “optimal” occupant restraint. We should also encourage caregivers to take stock of their driving style, fatigue, distraction, vehicle crash ratings and vehicle maintenance.

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