Children must use car seats, but there are specific requirements depending on the child. Here’s more.

Negotiating your struggling toddler into a car seat might be a nightmare, but it’s one deal that’s not worth the compromise. In fact, it isn’t even up to you, much less your 2-year-old—it’s the law. But why is it that car seats are so important? And with all the options available, how do you pick the best one in the first place?

Strap In

Babies and small children have far more fragile bodies than adults because they’re still in the growing process, and their bones, brains, and spinal cords aren’t done developing. Weighing less, it makes them more susceptible to inertia in the event of an accident. As you may have noticed, they also lack the self-control of adults to stay properly buckled in. Furthermore, seat belts are designed to fall across the body at intentional points, and children simply aren’t big enough for them to be effective. When used properly, a car seat picks up the slack. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, car seats reduce the risk of death for infants in an accident by 71 percent and toddlers by 54 percent. This only happens when they’re used properly, so pay attention.

Perfect Fit

Not just any car seat will do, and as your child grows, their seat must change to accommodate them. Check the labels to confirm that your child is the appropriate height and weight for any particular seat. If you’re confused, ask for help when first learning how to install the seat in your car and properly strap in your child. A second-hand car seat is OK, but know that they do have expiration dates or may otherwise be excessively worn, and you should be aware of the seat’s condition and any recalled models. If you can’t find an expiration date, don’t use it. Make sure the base is tight in the car, the seat is snug on the base, and the straps are tight on the baby. Remember, if you’re dealing with an infant younger than 24 months, they should be kept in a rear-facing seat unless they’ve outgrown it according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Moving On

It might come as a surprise, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children shouldn’t be allowed to ride in the front seat until they’re 12 years old. This is for all the reasons mentioned earlier, but the front seat also has an added risk of injury from air bags. Meant to protect adults, sudden and forceful airbag deployment can do more harm than good when it comes to children.

There’s a big difference between an infant and a 12-year-old adolescent, and there are car seats and boosters available each stage of the way. Always remember to check that your car seat is the proper model and size, that your child is buckled in safely and securely, and that the seat fits your car as it should. Car seats save lives, so this is no time to settle for anything but what’s needed.

Blair Lampe

About the AuthorBlair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based freelance writer and mechanic.  She travels frequently and on a budget, which she documents on her website TheGreyBeyond.