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FAQs about Infant Car Seat Safety Laws

by Kevin Freeman

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Child car seat

Because of the dangers involved in transporting infants, it's extremely important for parents to know all the safety laws concerning infant car seats. There are a number of laws requiring parents to buckle infants in using a specified range of safety equipment as well as testing procedures to see which laws apply. Here are a few of the more common questions that new parents have about infant car seat safety laws.

Questions about Car Seat Laws:

  1. What kind of car seat does my newborn need?
    Newborn babies always need a rear-facing car seat, but some newborns -- most especially "preemies" -- need to be tested before leaving the hospital to find out what kind of rear-facing seat they need. For newborns who aren't yet breathing strongly, a car bed may need to be installed before the child can be safely transported.

  2. When should my infant start facing forward?
    The standard rule for switching a child from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing car seat is to do so only after the child weighs more than 20 pounds and is more than one year old. Children less than one year old but weighing more than 20 pounds should stay in rear-facing seats as long as possible because they haven't yet developed the strong neck muscles needed to prevent injury from regular braking.

  3. Does my infant need a car seat on an airplane?
    According to the FAA's rules and guidelines, all children under the age of four should be seated with a front- or rear-facing car seat, as applicable. This procedure is required until the age of four, when the standard airplane buckle can be used.

  4. Should I purchase any safety enhancements for my infant's car seat?
    A good rule of thumb is to only use the equipment that comes with your car seat. After-market add-ons, such as pillows or wedges, might claim to enhance safety but can actually place your child in greater danger, especially if they have not been tested by a licensed safety commission.

  5. Can my infant ride in the front seat?
    It is strongly recommended that infants and children under the age of 13 do not ride in the front seat. A child who is strapped into the front seat of the car, even in a car seat, is in much greater danger of being ejected from the car through the windshield during an accident or being injured by objects coming through the windshield. In addition, airbag deployment can seriously injure or kill an infant, even during minor collisions.

  6. Can my infant ride safely in a seat that is only equipped with lap belts?
    Lap belts are acceptable for infant seats that do not face forward; if the seat does face forward, it is strongly recommended that the seat be equipped with a full harness instead of a standard restraint. In any event, however, it is recommended that lap belts be replaced with lap and shoulder belts.

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