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On the Radar – Child Safety Seats
As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I get many questions about the proper use of child safety seats and the laws pertaining to them.
In July 2016, PA law was changed in regards to how long a child is required to remain rear-facing in a car seat. Children are now required to be rear-facing until age 2.
PA law requires the following child seats based on their age:
0-4 yrs old: a child safety seat, with child being rear facing until age 2
4-8 yrs old: a booster seat
The law and the best recommended practice may differ. To keep your child safest you should follow these guidelines:
1.) Remain rear facing for as long as possible
2.) Use a 5 point harness child safety seat for as long as possible
3.) Use a booster seat until the child reaches at least 4’ 9” tall
4.) Children under the age of 13 should always ride in the back seat, or disengage the air bag in the front seat if the child must be placed there.
Every child safety seat will have height and weight limitations displayed on the seat. Ensure that the child is within the range specified for that particular seat. Each seat will also display a manufactured date. The seat is typically deemed “expired” after 6 years and should be replaced, unless otherwise noted for that particular seat. Every child safety seat will come with an owner’s manual. You should review the manual in order to use the seat as intended.
Installation and fitting of the child safety seat:
There are 2 systems to choose from for installing your child safety seat.
1.) LATCH system – which will have lower anchors indicated by the small plastic buttons on the seat back and a tether anchor which is typically behind the head rest. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for locations in your vehicle
2.) Seat belt system
One system is not better than the other. You should use whichever system you can use properly every time you install the seat.
Whether you use the LATCH system or the seat belt system, the seat should be snug. There should be less than 1” of side-to-side movement at the belt path.
When using a child safety seat:
If the child is rear-facing, the shoulder straps should be routed from lower than the child’s shoulders, then come up and over the front of their shoulders.
If the child is forward facing, the shoulder straps should be routed from above the child’s shoulders and come down across the shoulder.
The harness clip should be placed across the chest at armpit level. You do not want the clip to be too close to the child’s neck, sternum or belly.
The crotch straps should fit snuggly across the hips and upper thigh area.
When using a booster seat:
The lap belt should fit snuggly across the hips and upper thigh area. The shoulder strap should lay across the chest and shoulder. If the shoulder belt falls across the child’s neck area, the child needs a different booster seat or should still be in a child safety seat.
There is a lot of information about the proper use and installation of child safety seats. It can be confusing. Please contact a Child Passenger Safety Technician if you have any questions about the proper use of your seats. Your local PA State Police barracks will most likely have a technician and many hospitals also have technicians available.
For additional information you can also go to www.safercar.gov