Your child's car seat is one of the most important purchases you will ever make. Most states require car seats for children under the age of 4 years old -- and booster or other safety seats are often required for children up to age 8. When shopping for a car seat for your newborn or toddler, it is important that you do some research to make sure that you are getting the safest model for your child.
You'll also want to re-evaluate your choice every few years -- the safest infant car seat might not work very well for a toddler, for example. Here are some tips on how to find safety ratings:
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This website should be your first stop when researching. Why? Because NHTSA's website offers a detailed section dedicated entirely to child passenger safety. You can find the "ease of use" ratings for safety seats as well as a chart on their the correct usage. There is also a listing of product recalls since 1990 (great if you happen to have a second-hand seat) and a safety inspection station locator. Because one of the most common mistakes parents make is improper usage, the ease of use ratings can help you to determine if the seat is easy to use. NHTSA also offers safety feature comparisons. You'll want to make sure your choice meets federal safety guidelines, along with local safety standards.
- Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports is known for its reviews on just about every product under the sun -- from dishwashing detergent to automobiles. It's car seat safety ratings are legendary. Consumer Reports is the only organization that currently rates for crash protection. For an annual fee you can subscribe to CR online, which will enable you to have access to their most recent ratings (as well as to all of their other product ratings). Consumer Reports is famous for thorough investigations -- seats are rated in order of their safety features and then broken down by price.
- Consumer Search. Because some of the best advice can come from other parents, this site offers reviews of the top-rated car seats. Not simply endorsed by parents, most of these seats are recommended by safety experts as well.
- Car Safety.org. This is a wonderful site that covers all aspects of car seat safety. It includes a buying guide feature as well as links to dozens of child passenger safety websites. If you're looking for access to safety ratings as well as other information, this is a great place to look.
- Other things to keep in mind. When shopping for a car seat, take into account the type of vehicle you own; not all seats fit properly into all types of cars. If you drive a pick-up, you may need a specialized truck seat. Remember that the most expensive model is not necessarily the best one for your child (do your research!). Finally, even the best seat in the world will not protect your child if it is installed incorrectly. Learn how to install the seat properly and take it to a safety inspection location to have it checked out.
- Factors to look for. A good car seat:
- has a five-point harness
- uses twist-free straps
- includes head impact protection
Please remember: It doesn't matter how good your child's car seat is if you don't use it. Always make sure you put your infant or child in the seat before you take off -- it could save your baby's life.