Lessons Learned – Car Seat Safety

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You’ve probably seen this story circulating all over Facebook for the last week or so. I shared it on The Practically Green Mom Facebook page, and based on my post, one person has already told me that she turned her daughter’s seat back around. 🙂

But, Cameron’s passing should start a conversation about more than rear-facing vs. forward facing young children. We should really be talking about PROPER USE of ALL car seats. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about rear-facing vs. forward facing. Today, it’s still one of the most read posts on this blog, but I no longer agree with some of the information I provided my readers.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read the following graphic, and FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS in your car seat’s manual regarding installation and proper use of the seat (height and weight limits). Also, verify that your car seat is not EXPIRED by looking for a label on the seat itself. (Yes, car seats have expiration dates!)


If the label has a date of manufacture, but no specific expiration date (like the picture on the right above), you will need to verify the expiration year with the manufacturer. In this case, from the Britax website: “BRITAX convertible car seats manufactured after June 2010 (excluding the Classic line) have a service life of 7 years.” So, this seat with an August 2011 date of manufacture will expire in August 2018.

Rear-Facing (birth to age 2 minimum, ideally age 3-4)

The best way to keep your child safe is to have them rear-facing as long as possible. A child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Infant seats are not intended for long term use, as most babies outgrown them before their first birthday (usually by eight or nine months). If your child has outgrown their infant seat, the next step is a convertible car seat that can be installed rear-facing.

My son is 3 years old, and he could still be rear-facing…if we had a seat like the Graco Size4Me Convertible that would accommodate a taller child. (I believe this is the tallest rear-facing seat that is currently available.)

We have an older model Britax Advocate 70 CS Convertible – manufactured in 2011, which is outgrown in height earlier than some other seats (as I found out after I bought two of them…lesson learned!) Based on the “1 inch from the top of his head to the top of the shell” rule for this seat, my son has outgrown the rear-facing limits. The easiest way to measure this is to find a 1″ thick book, and put it on top of the head perpendicular to the shell. With the headrest in the way, you’ll have to eyeball it, but it’s pretty easy to see that we have 1″ or less between the top of his head and the top of the shell.


**The new Britax ClickTight Convertibles seem to have fixed this problem, though. Children can rear-face in these seats until their heads are one inch below the adjuster on the headrest, not just the shell. So, outgrowing the ClickTight seats in the rear-facing position by height won’t be an issue (even for really tall, skinny kids) as long as they are still under 40 lbs.

Forward-Facing (age 2 to age 5 minimum, ideally age 7)

As I mentioned above, the older Britax convertibles don’t accommodate taller children well, so he is also at the highest forward-facing harness level in the Advocate.


So, we are replacing that seat in DH’s car with a Harmony Defender 360 soon. The Defender is a Combination Seat, which transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness into a booster. This will allow him to continue forward-facing with a 5 pt. harness until he is old enough (and mature enough) to sit properly in a booster seat with a seat belt.

Another popular Combination Seat is the Britax Frontier 90 Harness-2-Booster which I have in my car now. It has the tallest forward-facing harness on the market as of this post. (See, I did my research this time! lol) It is ridiculously easy to install with the ClickTight technology, and my son has plenty of room to grow in it.


Booster (age 5 minimum to age 10-12)

There are three types of booster seats (confusing, I know!)

  • Combination Seat: As I mentioned before, this seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a 5 pt. harness into a booster.
  • High Back Booster: Designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. Only for children who are old enough (age 5 minimum) AND mature enough (for many kids this isn’t until age 6-7) to sit correctly 100% of the time with only a seat belt. High Back Boosters are recommended for younger booster riders, because the high seat back reminds them to sit correctly, and they usually do a better job of positioning the seat belt on smaller children.
  • Backless Booster: Just like the High Back, it is designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. Be sure to have a vehicle headrest behind the child’s head, at least up to the tips of their ears.

Children should remain in booster seats until they are tall enough (4’9″ tall) to fit in a seat belt properly, which happens around age 11 for the average child. A proper seat belt fit meets the following 5 step criteria:

  • Child sits all the way back against the vehicle seat.
  • Knees are bent at the edge of the vehicle seat and feet are on the floor.
  • The shoulder belt fits evenly across the collarbone and sits flush with the torso. It does not cross the neck or face.
  • The lap belt is low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs, not the stomach.
  • Child can stay comfortably seated this way for the entire ride.

And remember: your child should still ride in the back seat (even in a seat belt) because it’s safer there!

If you are getting concerned about the number of car seats you may have to purchase over your child’s 10-12 years riding in one, I have good news! There are a few seats on the market that could safely fit a child from birth to booster, including the new (and highly sought after) Graco 4ever All-in-One. (I wish I had one to review, because I have heard nothing but good things about it!) In fact, I did recommend another “all-in-one” seat (Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite) in my previous post, but I would like to retract that recommendation. I got this as a back-up seat for my in-laws’ car, and we’ve used it twice (I think) in over three years. While it is a perfectly safe seat in both rear and forward facing harnessed modes, it is not truly the “only seat you’ll ever need”. It is difficult to properly install rear-facing, and the versions with a 40 lb. harness limit may be outgrown very quickly height-wise. (Most of these models do not allow use of the top slot in harnessed mode.) This would cause a child to move into booster mode too early. And speaking of booster mode, several reputable sources and car seat techs do not recommend any child use this seat in booster mode due to inadequate fit.

I know I’ve given you a lot of information here, but it is SO important! Again, please FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS in your car seat’s manual regarding installation and proper use of the seat. If you have questions, PLEASE ASK a certified car seat technician! There are several Facebook groups (including Car Seat Safety), and online forums (like car-seat.org) with people ready to help you keep your child safe while riding in the car.

{This post is not affiliated with any car seat manufacturer, but does contain Amazon.com affiliate links. Making a purchase via these links helps support this blog. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.}

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