Car Seat Basics
A one-year-old child has developed enough muscular strength and coordination to sit in a forward-facing car seat, though the seat must still be installed in the back seat of your car. Even though you've kept your child in the back seat for at least a year now, you might not know why it's important for him to ride there. There are two reasons. First, the point of impact in most car accidents is in the front, so your child is safer in the back. Second, the back seat has no air bags. Air bags are dangerous for children because they are designed for adults. The force with which the air bags deploy can severely injure a child. Children are safest in the middle of the back seat. All back doors should be locked, and windows should be closed using the child safety lock feature.
Car Seat Options
All car seats sold in reputable stores have passed federal safety standards, and most cost somewhere around $100. A cost above that is usually for the material or design elements, as it is not necessarily true that a more expensive seat is safer. You can also buy a car seat that turns into a booster seat when your child weighs more and is taller. These are just as safe as other car seats — especially if they have a five-point harness. Always head to the police or fire station to have an expert check that the seat is installed properly.
Your driving will be safer if your baby isn't fussy, so it's important to make sure his ride is set up in a way that's entertaining as well as safe. At one year of age, your baby is facing forward and watching you drive. He might enjoy having a pretend steering wheel to play with, as well as toys near his seat, but don't add anything to the seat that might get in the way of the straps or handles. Other dangers include anything that could go flying in a crash.
A properly installed and strapped car seat reduces the chance of a fatal injury by 54 percent in children ages one to four, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (
A five-point harness — the strapping system that wraps across your child's chest as well as his lap — is effective because it keeps your baby from receiving the force of impact in any one part of his body during an accident. The harness spreads out the impact and keeps your child in the seat.
The car seat must be tight against the car's seat itself and, if necessary, the belt that holds the car seat in might need a hook or special lock to keep the seat steady and flush against the car. The chest clip that is part of all car seats should be level with your child's armpit, while the lap belt should be across her hips.
Finally, be sure your child isn't bulked up by coats and blankets underneath the belts and straps. If it's cold, be sure the straps are flush against his clothes (so that he is secured in the seat) and then cover him with a blanket to keep him warm.
Be aware that car seats have an expiration date. Do not use a car seat past the date printed on the seat. Also, if the seat has been in an accident, it is no longer safe to use, according to national safety standards. You may not need to replace the car seat if you were in a very minor accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines a minor accident as one that meets all of the following criteria:
• The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
• The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged.
• There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants.
• The air bags (if present) did not deploy.
• There is no visible damage to the safety seat.
If you were in a very minor accident, get your car seat inspected at a child seat inspection station. To find one near you, go online to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site, at