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Buying the right child safety seat for your kid

Buying the right child safety seat can be, to put it bluntly, the difference between life and death.

Here are three simple, yet critical steps, according to Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief at Edmunds.com, to make sure your child is safe.

  • Research the proper child seat for your child. There are three distinct types designed for different age groups and weights of children. More about this later.
  • Carefully read the instructions that come with the seat.
  • Follow the installation instructions in the car's owners manual.
  • "These seats aren't difficult to install if you buy the right seat and read all the instructions, Brauer adds.

    Here are guidelines for choosing and using the appropriate seat for your child:

    • Infants from birth to 1 year of age weighing up to 20 pounds and about 27 inches long should be placed in rear-facing infant seats. The harness straps should be at or below the baby's shoulders and should fit snugly. The chest harness strap should be at armpit level.
    • Infants under the age of 1 year but more than 20 pounds, should ride facing the rear in a convertible child safety seat made for heavier infants. "In a collision when a baby is facing forward, its head flops forward and the neck bones can actually separate and stretch the spinal cord, causing paralysis or even death," says Brauer. "But if the baby is facing backwards, the head just pushes further into the seat."
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    • Toddlers from 20 to 40 pounds should ride in forward-facing toddler seats. Harness straps should be at or above the shoulders, usually threaded through the top slots, and fit snugly. The chest harness strap should be at armpit level. Brauer says your child is too big for a toddler seat if her shoulders are above the top set of harness slots or if the tips of her ears are above the hard shell of the safety seat.
    • Children over 40 pounds but less than 4-feet, 9-inches tall should use belt-positioning booster seats. Some children are just too small for seat belts and too large for toddler seats, but using a booster seat allows you to use adult lap and shoulder belts. The shoulder belt should rest on the collarbone and fit snugly across the child's chest. The lap belt should lie across the upper thigh. Never use a booster seat with just a lap belt.
    • Children who are 8 years old and taller than 4-feet, 9-inches can use regular seat belts. According to NHTSA, the child should be able to sit with her back against the back seat cushion and her feet on the floor.

    Sylvia Booth Hubbard is a freelance writer in Mississippi.

    -- Posted: Sept. 23, 2003

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