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Editor’s note: Please be sure to check on your state or region’s laws regarding car seats and children. The laws often change. In my state, children are required to be in booster seats well beyond the age of 4. If you are travelling, be sure to check the laws of the areas you’re visiting as well.

Car seat safety is one of the most important things parents need to be concerned about. Car seats, when used correctly, can help save your child, but when they are used incorrectly, they can actually be dangerous.

A car seat’s main function is to protect your child, so you need to make sure you do everything you can to help it do its job. Below are a few pieces of advice on choosing a car seat and safely installing it:

Picking the right car seat

Not all car seats are created equally or for the same purpose. In fact, there are three different types of car seats that all have their own regulations and guidelines:

  • Baby car seats are infant-only seats that should always face the rear of the car. Typically, these seats have a weight limit of somewhere between 22 and 35 pounds. When your child reaches the weight or height limit of the baby seat, then it is time to move to the convertible seat.
  • Convertible car seats are for infants and toddlers. Convertible car seats are designed to be both rear-facing and front-facing; it all depends on the weight and height of your child. It is safest to leave your child facing the rear of the vehicle and is suggested that you do that until the age of 2 or until maximum height and weight have been reached.
  • Booster seats are for children who are at least 4 years old and weigh at least 40 pounds. The cars shoulder and lap belt secures your child in the booster seat, and backless boosters are fine to use, as long as your child has head support.

Having the right car seat depends primarily on your child’s height and weight. Make sure you don’t move up to the next seat prematurely.

Installing the car seat

You might not read directions for certain things, but you always need to read the directions about how to properly install the car seat. Car seats are designed and built to fit a car a certain way, and you want to make sure you put in the car exactly as it should be. The instruction booklet that comes with the car seat should take you through a step-by-step guide to installing the seat. However, the instructions may not tell you everything you need to know about car seat safety, in general:

  • Make sure the bottom of the car seat fits snugly against the seat in your car. If the seat doesn’t sit flat, it may slide around.
  • Be sure that when you push on the car seat it doesn’t move. The seat should come with tethers or other locking mechanisms. Use them to secure the seat as tightly as possible.
  • You also need to be sure that even when children are tall enough and weigh enough to be out of the booster seat, they sit in the back seat until they are at least 13.

As a parent, you don’t take your child’s safety lightly, so don’t risk their safety by not properly installing the car seat. Take extra care and follow all of the instructions to make sure you are doing it the way manufacturers have specified. As long as you keep these tips in mind and always remain aware of your child’s specific size and weight, you can travel assured that you’re doing everything you can for your child’s safety.

Matt Herndon is a father who loves spending as much time as possible with his wife and three kids. When he’s not rushing from his son’s football games to his daughter’s riding lessons or his other daughter’s volleyball games, he’s slowly whittling away at his honey-do list.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want their children to be safe on the road.