Car Safety Seats — Basics for Correct Usage

American academy of Pediatrics

Installing Car Safety Seats Correctly

What You Should Know About Air Bags
All new cars come with front air bags. When used with seat belts, air bags work very well to protect teenagers and adults. However, air bags can be very dangerous to children, particularly those riding in rear-facing car safety seats and to child passengers who are not positioned properly. If your vehicle has a front passenger air bag, infants in rear-facing seats must ride in the back seat. Even in a relatively low-speed crash, the air bag can inflate, strike the car safety seat, and cause serious brain and neck injury and death.

Vehicles with no back seat or a back seat that is not made for passengers are not the best choice for traveling with small children. However, the air bag can be turned off in some of these vehicles if the front seat is needed for a child passenger. See your vehicle owner’s manual for more information.

Side Air Bags
Side air bags improve safety for adults in side-impact crashes. Read your vehicle owner’s manual for more information about the air bags in your vehicle. Read your car safety seat manual for guidance on placing the seat next to a side air bag.


LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is an attachment system that eliminates the need to use seat belts to secure the car safety seat. Vehicles with the LATCH system have anchors located in the back seat. Car safety seats that come with LATCH have attachments that fasten to these anchors. Nearly all passenger vehicles and all car safety seats made on or after September 1, 2002, come with LATCH. However, unless both your vehicle and the car safety seat have this anchor system, you still will need to use seat belts to install the car safety seat.

If You Need Installation Help

If you have questions or need help installing your car safety seat, find a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician. A list of certified CPS Technicians is available by state or ZIP code on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site at A list of inspection stations — where you can go to learn how to install a car safety seat correctly — is available in English and Spanish at or toll-free at 1-866-SEATCHECK (1-866-732-8243). You also can get this information by calling the toll-free NHTSA Auto Safety Hotline at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (1-888-327-4236) from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday.

Important Reminders

1. Be a good role model. Make sure you always wear your seat belt. This will help your child form a lifelong habit of buckling up.

2. Never leave your child alone in or around cars. Any of the following can happen when a child is left alone in or around a vehicle:

  • Temperatures can reach deadly levels in minutes, and the child can die of heat stroke.
  • He can be strangled by power windows, sunroofs or accessories.
  • He can knock the vehicle into gear, setting it in motion.
  • He can be backed over when the vehicle backs up.
  • He can become trapped in the trunk of the vehicle.

3. Always read and follow manufacturer’s instructions. If you do not have the manufacturer’s instructions for your car safety seat, write or call the company’s customer service department. They will ask you for the model number, name of seat and date of manufacture. The manufacturer’s address and phone number are on the label on the seat. Also be sure to follow the instructions in your vehicle owner’s manual about using car safety seats.

Before buying a car safety seat, check the manufacturer’s instructions for important safety information about proper fitting and use.

The NHTSA has put together an Ease of Use Ratings system to educate parents and caregivers about car safety seat features and to assist them in finding the appropriate seat for their needs. You can view this list at

© Copyright 2008 American Academy of Pediatrics

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