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How to Choose the Right Car Seat for Your Child

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among children ages 3 to 14. Nothing you do can guarantee that your children won't fall victim to a Chicago car accident. However, the proper use of seatbelts and child safety seats can go a long way towards minimizing their risk of injury.

A few weeks ago, we discussed the importance of correctly installing a child safety seat. However, choosing the right seat for your child is just as vital.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has issued guidelines to help parents understand what type of car seat their child should use. The recommendations are based largely on age; parents may have to adjust slightly depending on their child's size.

Note that children age 12 and under should always ride in the back seat.

Birth to 12 months: Babies should always ride in rear-facing seats. Many parents choose to purchase convertible or "three-in-one" car seats, since they have higher weight limits can be used longer.

1 to 3 years: Toddlers should ride in rear-facing seats for as long as possible. Once they reach the rear-facing seat's height and weight limit, toddlers should transition to a forward-facing seat with a harness.

4 to 7 years: Younger children should continue to use the forward-facing seat until they outgrow it. Then, they can transition to a booster seat. Booster seats do not have a harness that restrains the child. Instead, they allow the child to sit up higher, so that the seatbelt fits properly.

8 to 12 years: Older children should continue to use a booster seat until they are tall enough to have a seat belt fit properly. Seat belts should lie across the child's upper thighs and should fit snugly across the shoulder. If the seat belt rests on your child's stomach or neck, your child is still too small to travel without a booster seat.

Using proper safety restraints is the best way to protect your child from personal injury in the event of a car accident. Take the time to research car seats and ensure yours is installed correctly. It may be the best investment you ever make.

Source: National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, "Car Seat Recommendations for Children," March 21, 2011.

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