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A car seat is an essential part of car safety for your most precious cargo–your child. Whether you have a newborn or are preparing for your baby’s arrival, understanding how car seats protect and support your child is crucial for their safety and your peace of mind.
Parenting is no easy task, and all the new information and “rules” can be overwhelming. The information about safety features on most car seats provided here helps parents worry less. This way you can do what is best and safest for your children.
Key Safety Features of Car Seats
The safety features of children’s car seats continue to evolve as more crash tests and studies are done that promote innovations to enhance their safety. A car seat’s purpose is to better protect a child in an accident. Regular seat belts are designed for humans that are almost or fully grown (originally designed for the average adult male).
Younger children are weaker, and their bodies are more delicate, so they need additional protection to prevent injury. Car seats are required to come with several standard features to live up to safety regulations.
The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children latch system has been a standard part of passenger vehicles in the U.S. since 2002. Vehicle seats have a metal bar, called Lower Anchors, inside them with hooks in between cushions. LATCH supposedly allows for easier installation of a car seat without a reduction in safety. However, placement and weight limitations exist for using the LATCH system that don’t apply to the traditional seat belt installation method. Car seats have various methods of attaching to the vehicle’s LATCH system.
The 5-point harness system is a foundation of car seat safety. The harness makes five points of contact: shoulders (2), hips (2), and between the legs (1). This system distributes the force of a crash better across a child’s body compared to a regular seat belt with three points of contact. The 5-point harness protects the fragile parts of a child. It holds them securely in the safest position and is adjustable to adapt as they grow for maximum protection.
Shock Absorbing Material
The materials in car seats offer a comfortable seat, but the padding is also a safety feature. The plastic, metal, and padding included in the seats absorb most of the force of a crash, distributing it over a wide area of the child’s body. This reduces the amount of stress on any single part of the body.
Children’s bodies can’t handle the same amount of force in an accident as adults. Having these materials ensures they are adequately protected. Infants need more support because they aren’t strong enough to hold their heads up independently. At one year old, a child’s head is 25 percent of its body weight. Whereas an adult’s head makes up about 6 percent of their body weight. Car seat materials ensure infants and toddlers are positioned correctly and protected in a crash.
In many types of car crashes, the initial impact throws passengers and objects forward, then there’s a bounce-back effect that can be dangerous for car seats. Anti-rebound bars are positioned at the foot of rear-facing car seats for extra stability. They reduce the rebounding action in a crash that causes additional movement, which may injure your child. The bar provides a strong anchor and extra absorption of the force of a collision.
Side Impact Protection
There are materials used to make a car seat safer in the event of a side collision (or t-bone crash), such as energy-absorbing foam and padding (expanded polystyrene EPS or expanded polypropylene foam EPP). Side impact protection features come out and around the body, supporting the child’s head, shoulders, and chest.
This car seat safety feature can be found more often on infant carrier bases. But some convertible seats also have load legs. A load leg gives the car seat extra support from forward movement by extending a leg from the car seat base to the vehicle floor. It adds stabilization and reduces the transfer of crash energy the child receives. Consumer Reports tests showed the average head-injury risk was about 46 percent less than the average head injury risk of infant car seat models with no load leg.
Vital Car Seat Use Safety Checks
The safety features of a car seat are essential, but improper use of them reduces their effectiveness. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, statistics show that 59 percent of toddler car seats and 20 percent of booster seats are misused in ways that limit their safety. Parents must ensure they use the right seat for their child, install it correctly, and securely buckle in the child.
The Most Important Safety Feature
The instruction manual is a largely untapped resource for properly using a car seat. The information in this manual includes specific car seat safety features, standards like the maximum weight and height, and directions for installation. The advantage of this over a basic internet search is the information comes from the manufacturer, who knows the best ways to use the car seat safely.
Download our cheat sheet to learn the 4+ stages of car seats and which one your child is in.
Know Car Seat Safety Stages
When people think of the safety stages of car seats, they typically think of four stages: rear-facing, forward-facing, booster car seat (or belt-positioning), and graduating to seat belt only. However, there is a crucial stage missing–the prenatal stage. Protecting the mother and her unborn baby in a vehicle is especially important.
Although findings in studies on driving and pregnancy vary greatly, estimating anywhere from 300-5,000 fetal deaths a year as a result of car crashes, the heightened risk to pregnant women driving makes safety during this stage imperative. The Tummy Shield is a maternity seat belt positioner that makes driving more comfortable for pregnant women and provides better protection in a collision.
The car seat stages after a child is born are based on the child’s age and size. Using the appropriate seat for your child is paramount because they may get injured with too little support. The categories of these stages include:
- Rear-facing: Infants and toddlers up to age 4 or 5
- Front-facing: Ideal for at least ages 2 (preferably 3 or 4) to 6, depending on the child’s growth
- Booster car seat (or belt-positioning): From around age 6-12, a seat belt positioning device or booster seat is needed to adequately fit a regular seat belt to the strongest points on the body (shoulder and hips)
- Seat belt only: After passing the 5-step test or 4’9″, a child is ready to use just the seat belt
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Rear vs. Forward Facing Seats
One of the most important differences to be aware of is between rear and forward-facing seats. You should keep your child’s car seat in the rear-facing position for as long as possible to give their small, fragile bodies time to grow and strengthen. A rear-facing infant or toddler car seat protects the head and neck from the jolting force of a collision. Unlike older children and adults, younger kids’ neck bones aren’t strong enough to support their heads. The whiplash adults would easily recover from might be a severe or fatal injury for an infant or toddler.
Around age 3 to 5, a child is ready for a front-facing seat, depending on their growth. During this stage, a secure harness is the most crucial safety feature. This infographic illustrates the importance of proper car seat usage in these stages, including how to install them and buckle the harness.
Safe Ride 4 Kids
At Safe Ride 4 Kids, we prioritize your child’s safety in every stage of life. Shop our store for all your car seat needs to protect your precious cargo while driving and ensure everyone arrives safely at your destination.
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