This is a general overview of the recommendations for car seat safety by the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). Age-based recommendations are approximate. Your primary focus for identifying the appropriate safety restraint system for your child should be your child’s development (i.e., weight and height). Websites containing more information are included at the end of this page.
Car seats and vehicle safety features (such as airbags) are frequently being redesigned and improved. Federal and state laws and regulations regarding vehicle safety are frequently updated. Each car seat and vehicle have different installation instructions. Carefully review the instructions for specific products you are using, and verify that you are relying upon the most up-to-date information.
Summary of General Recommendations
|Car Seat Type
(Approximate Age Range)
(Birth to 2 or 3 years)
|The AAP recommends that children use a rear-facing car seat until they are at least age 2 or until they reach the weight or height limit allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer.
The NHTSA recommends that children use a rear-facing seat until age 3 or until they reach the weight or height limit allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer.
There is strong evidence suggesting that using rear-facing seats beyond age 3 has safety benefits so long as the child is within the manufacturer’s weight and height limits for the product.
(2 years to 7 years)
|The AAP and NHTSA recommend that a child who has outgrown a rear-facing seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible (until he or she has reached the weight or height limit allowed by their car seat’s manufacturer).
The AAP recommends using a forward-facing car seat through at least age 4.
The NHTSA recommends using a forward-facing car seat through age 6.
(4 years to 12 years)
|The AAP and NHTSA recommend that a child who has outgrown a forward-facing seat should use a Belt Positioning Booster Seat until a vehicle’s seat belt fits properly.
For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest (not the neck or face). Usually, seat belts fit properly when a child has reached 4 feet 9 inches in height, and is between 8 to 12 years of age.
The AAP recommends using a booster seat through age 8.
The NHTSA recommends using a booster seat through age 11.
|Additional Recommendations||Lap and shoulder belts are recommended for all who have outgrown booster seats.
It is also recommended that all children younger than 13 years of age ride in the rear seats of vehicles. This includes children in car seats and boosters.
Special Needs: premature infants and children with respiratory difficulties, orthopedic challenges, neurological and behavioral problems may require special child restraints such as car beds.
Additional Car Seat Safety Information
- Children should always be in the rear seats of vehicles for optimum protection. In most crashes, the risk of serious injury and death is lower if you are seated in the rear passenger seats. Additionally, front passenger airbags can be dangerous to children, including those in car seats and boosters. They are especially dangerous to children in rear-facing car seats. There have been instances of children being killed in otherwise survivable crashes due to head and spinal injuries caused by front passenger airbags.
- Use rear-facing, and then forward-facing, car seats for as long as possible (which is as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s weight and height requirements).
- Each vehicle and car seat have different installation instructions. Review them carefully. Approximately 73 percent of car seats are not installed or used correctly. The NHTSA has a list of tips for installing car seats properly. Safekids.org has a checklist for proper car seat installation.
- In Reno, REMSA offers the Point of Impact (POI) Child Safety Seat Program to assist parents with proper car seat installation. The Reno Fire Department also provides car seat safety checks. AAA also does car seat inspections at numerous locations in Nevada and California.
- The NHTSA has a Used Car Seat Safety Checklist.
- The NHTSA recommends that car seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash. Their website has more information about this recommendation.
- Car seats and boosters should not be installed in a pickup truck’s side-facing jump seats because car seats are crash tested in forward-facing seats. Generally, children should not sit in side-facing jump seats because they are less safe than forward-facing seats in most crashes.
- Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children 4 years and older (over 5,000 per year). For every fatality, approximately 18 children require hospitalization and 400 require medical treatment. Child safety seats, properly used, can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent.
- A study (linked below), published in 2007, of vehicle crashes in the U.S. involving children 0-23 months of age found that rear-facing car seats, used in accordance with the recommended weight and height limitations, provide significantly greater protection than forward-facing car seats in both frontal and side-impact crashes. This study also notes other studies of Swedish data which support this conclusion. In fact, in Sweden, children use rear-facing car seats until age 4.
- Both the Healthychildren.org and Safercar.gov websites (the first two websites linked in the last section of this page) have considerable information regarding different types of car seats (e.g., rear-facing only, convertible, all-in-one, high back boosters, backless boosters, combination, and LATCH system seats).
Nevada and California Car Seat Laws
- Nevada requires that children less than 6 years of age and weighing less than 60 pounds travel in an appropriate child restraint system (car seat or booster seat) which is properly installed within and attached securely to the vehicle. (NRS 484B.157)
- California requires that children under the age of 8 be secured in an appropriate car seat or booster in the vehicle’s rear seat, unless he or she is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall or meets another exception. If a child under the age of 8 is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, the child must be secured by a seat belt in the rear seat unless there is an applicable exception. Children age 8 but less than age 16 must be secured in an appropriate car seat, booster seat, or safety belt. (CA VC 27360, 27360.5, 27363) Exceptions, among others, include:
- A child weighing more than 40 pounds may be transported in the rear seat using only a lap safety belt when the rear seat does not have a combination lap and shoulder belt.
- A child may ride in an appropriate car seat or booster in the front seat if: (1) there is no rear seat, (2) the rear seats are side-facing jump seats, (3) the rear seats are rear-facing seats, (4) the car seat or booster cannot be properly installed in the rear seat, (5) all rear seats are already occupied by children seven years of age or less.
- Despite these exceptions, a child may not be transported in a rear-facing car seat in the vehicle’s front seat if there is an active front passenger airbag.
Other Websites with Car Seat Safety Information
- Healthychildren.org Car Seat Guide: AAP sponsored website with age-based guidelines, installation information, guidance regarding car seat types, and frequently asked questions.
- Safercar.gov Car Seats: National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration website with information about car seat types, age and size recommendations, choosing a car seat, installation, and frequently asked questions.
- Safekids.org Car Seat Safety: provides information and tips for selecting and using car seats.
- USAA Educational Foundation Publications – Child Passenger Safety: a guide to car seat recommendations and installation. Includes pictures showing general tips for proper installation and common mistakes.
- REMSA Point of Impact (POI) Child Safety Seat Program: provides information about car seats, frequently asked questions, and a schedule and locations for car seat safety inspections in the Reno area.
- Seatcheck.org: website to help you find car seat inspection locations throughout the U.S.
- National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program: website focused on training car seat technicians, but it includes features to find locations for car seat safety inspections and other resources related to car seat safety.
- NHTSA Car Seat Product Recall List
- Highway Safety Research Center Car Seat Product Recall List
- AAP Policy Statement – Child Passenger Safety, Pediatrics (March 21, 2011)
- AAP Technical Report – Child Passenger Safety, Pediatrics (March 21, 2011)
- Car safety seats for children: rear facing for best protection, Injury Prevention (December 2007): study analyzing data from 1998-2003 of vehicle crashes in the U.S. involving children 0-23 months of age to compare injury risk between rear-facing and forward-facing car seats.