Car seat safety

Mighty Blog

A buckle-up checkup

Erin Martin, APRN, CNP
Erin Martin, APRN, CNP

Erin Martin, APRN, CNP

Running simple errands in your vehicle can be dangerous. As a nurse practitioner in the emergency department on the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses of Children’s Minnesota, I’ve witnessed my share of preventable injuries. Give yourself one less thing to worry about while on the road and take the time to ensure that you’re following the laws and recommendations regarding child automobile restraints.

It’s a scary fact that in 2013, 638 children died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and more than 127,250 were injured. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that correct car seat use reduces the risk of death by 71 percent for children younger than 1 year old, and by 54 percent for children ages 1-4. Booster seats, meanwhile, reduce the risk of serious injury by 45 percent for kids 4-8 years old when compared to seat belt use alone. Correctly securing children saves lives.

The good news is that information is readily available and there are many resources Minnesota residents can utilize to keep their kids safe. For those who are hands-on learners, the Office of Traffic Safety, a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, offers free car seat checks by appointment. Visit and find your county to schedule an appointment near you. The same link provides information about free car seat distribution centers in every county if you or someone you know is in need of a booster or car seat.

The recommendations for child automobile restraint are specific and detailed. Always consult your child seat instruction and vehicle manuals to ensure you’re installing your seats the way the manufacturers intended. The tips below are meant as general recommendations only. For complete details, visit buckleupkids.mn.gov. Here, drivers and parents can get official, up-to-date information on Minnesota laws, as well as car seat, booster seat and child passenger safety.

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Rear-facing seat

  • Includes infant or convertible seats
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children stay rear-facing until at least age 2.
  • Rear-facing is recommended until 30-35 pounds. Be sure to check the seat’s height and weight limits, which usually are printed on the labels attached to the seat.
  • Rear-facing seats should be reclined 30-45 degrees.
  • Keep the harness snug at or just below the shoulders with the chest clip at armpit level.
  • The safest place for any car seat is the rear seat of the car in the center position.

Forward-facing seat

  • Includes convertible or combination seats with a harness
  • Recommended after your child outgrows your seat in its rear-facing position.
  • A forward-facing, harnessed, convertible or combination seat should be used until a child outgrows its weight limit (typically 40-60 pounds), or is too tall for the seat (typically when the top of their ears are above the top of the car seat, unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer).
  • The harness straps should insert into slots at or above the child’s shoulders with the check clip at armpit level. 

Booster seat

  • After children outgrow a forward-facing harnessed seat (usually 40-60 pounds, depending on the manufacturer), they can use a booster seat.
  • Most vehicle belts fit properly on a person who is 4 feet 9 inches or taller. A booster seat helps ensure the lap and shoulder belts are properly positioned.
  • Required by law until age 8 or 4-foot-9
  • Both the lap and shoulder belts must be used for the booster to be effective. Your automobile’s existing belts are designed for an adult and will not protect a child adequately in a crash.
  • Designs come with or without a high back. Those without high backs can only be used in cars with a head rest.

Adult seat belt

  • To be used once your vehicle’s belts fit your child properly
  • Your child is ready for an adult seat belt when they can sit with their back against the vehicle seat, knees bent over the vehicle seat edge and feet touching the floor.
  • The safest place for any child younger than 13 is the rear seat of the car.

If the worst should occur and your car seat is involved in an accident, it needs to be destroyed and replaced. Unseen damage may make it less effective in a second crash. Check with the child seat manufacturer, as well as your car insurance company, about replacing the seat.

Travel safely!

Erin Martin is a nurse practitioner in the emergency department at Children’s Minnesota.