How to Choose a Car Seat
Car seats come in three basic designs: infant seats, shields, and harnesses. Infant seats position the baby in a half-upright position, facing the rear of the vehicle. You secure the baby in the carrier with a harness, and strap the carrier to the seat with a lap belt. These seats go in the front passenger seat. A child old enough to sit unsupported should sit in a seat that sits him straight up in the back seat, facing the front of the vehicle. For a child this age, you should use either a shield or harness seat.
All car seats must meet federal safety standards,
but some are still better than others.
The shield type has a protector, which is lowered in front of the child. It is padded on the inside surface to guard the child in a crash. Because it requires only the safety belt to lock it in place, it is easy to use. Older children can get in and out themselves, which is an advantage for the parents. But the shield car seat can be uncomfortable for younger children because there is little arm room, and it is difficult to see above the protector.
The harness type holds the child in the seat with two shoulder straps, two lap straps, and one crotch strap, all of which converge on a buckle. The seat itself is held in place by the lap belt and may have a tethering strap as well. It is comfortable for the child, but adjusting the straps can sometimes be cumbersome. Other seats combine the harness and shield, which alleviates the adjustment difficulties of the harness and the discomfort of the shield.
When you buy a car seat, you must consider a number of factors. You'll undoubtedly want the best seat at the lowest price, but you also need a seat that is durable, comfortable for your child, suitable for your vehicle, and easy to use. Be sure to try the car seat in your vehicle before the baby is born. Some car seats are hard to properly strap into certain cars. If your vehicle has dual air bags, use the car seat in the back seat.
- Check the construction of the seat. Be sure it meets federal standards (car seats that do are labeled as such). The most durable seats are those with molded seat shells and tubular steel under-framing. To save money, consider buying a convertible seat, with dual positions for infants and children, rather than buying two separate seats.
- Check the seat to be sure your child is comfortable in it. She should have enough arm room, and the seat should be high enough so she can see out the car windows easily. This not only helps keep her entertained, it helps prevent car sickness.
- Be sure the seat fits in your car and your lap belts are long enough to secure it. Some seats require a tether. While this type of seat is superior in safety, it does require the installation of a bolt in the car to anchor it. Be sure you can, and want to, install this.
- Check the number of straps, and be sure they are easily adjustable. Check the latch of the seat for ease of operation.
Whichever kind of seat you choose, use it each time your child is in the car -- and use it properly. (Some hospitals will not release a baby if you do not have a car seat in which to take him home.) The seat must be anchored appropriately to the car, including using the tether strap if applicable, and the child must be secured correctly in the restraint. Improperly used, a seat becomes a missile, causing more injury than if the child were unrestrained.
Car seats have other advantages besides safety. Children in car seats behave better than unrestrained children. While this is a benefit in itself, well-behaved children are also less of a distraction to the driver, thereby contributing to overall auto safety. In addition, children accustomed to riding in car seats are more likely to use seat belts when they get older. Thus, teaching your children good habits now may contribute to their future safety.
You should exercise similar care when shopping for and using other safety restraint items, such as baby bicycle seats (the kind that attach behind your own) and bicycle helmets. Never scrimp on quality to save a few dollars. Solid construction and secure fasteners are vital to protect your child from serious injury.
In the next section, we will look at backpacks, slings, wraps, and other child carriers.