1-3 Years | Rear- & Forward-Facing

Parents Should Keep Their Toddler Rear-Facing Until Age 2

It's natural for parents to be eager for the next stage of their child's development and that's a good thing. However, it is not the case with car seats. Please consider the following information before turning your toddler to the forward-facing position:

  • Check the labels on your car seat for height and weight limits, installation instructions, manufacturer dates and model numbers.
  • Always use your car seat to the maximum height or weight limit before moving your child to a forward-facing car seat.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that parents keep their toddler rear-facing until age two. At a minimum, children should ride rear-facing until at least age one and 20 pounds.
  • Rear-facing car seats are the most effective in severe frontal and frontal-offset crashes, which are the most frequent types of collisions.
  • The infant's or toddler’s head is larger and heavier in proportion to its body, and bones, tendons and muscles are not fully developed and in a crash, an infant or toddler is not physical able to control their head movement. For these reasons, serious death or injury could result in the event of a crash.

    Labels

    • Located on the seat and will provide the following information:
      • NHTSA certification of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).
      • Weight and height guidelines for your car seat.
      • Basic outline to install your car seat.
      • Manufacturing information that includes Car seat manufacturer's name, address, date and model number.
      • Air bag warning.
      • FAA certification for use in an aircraft.

    Retainer Clip

    • Also known as "Chest Clip".
    • Holds the harness straps together and positions the harness correctly on the shoulders.
    • MUST be at armpit level.

    Harness Straps

    • Keep the child with in the car seat.
    • If your child is rear-facing, the harness straps need to be AT OR BELOW shoulder level.
    • If your child is forward-facing, the harness straps need to be AT OR ABOVE shoulder level.
    • Tighten the harness so that you cannot "pinch" any of the harness straps between your fingers.
    • The harness should be snug and comfortable.
    • In the case of a crash, the harness straps will distribute crash forces throughout the care seat and over the strong bones of the body

    Seat Belt Path

    • This is the path that the car seat manufacturer is required to create so that the seat belt passes through the car seat.
    • Convertible car seats have multiple seat belt paths: rear-facing and forward-facing seat belt paths. Choose the path according to the direction your car seat is facing. Refer to car seat instructions.

    Buckle

    • Locking device that secures the child into the car seat.
    • The latch-plate clicks into the buckle. Click It Utah!

    Harness Adjuster

    • Used to tighten or loosen the car seat harness.
    • The location of the harness adjuster may vary from seat to seat. Always check your car seat instructions to find out where and how to tighten the car seat's harness.

Facts

  • All car seats sold in the United States are required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 213. Check for this on the label before you buy a car seat.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised parents to keep toddlers in rear-facing car seats as long as possible and up to the maximum limit of the car seat.
  • A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention found that children under age two are 75 percent less likely to die or to be severely injured in a crash if they are rear-facing.
  • A rear-facing car seat supports the infant/toddler's head, neck and spine and the shell of the car seat absorbs the forces of the crash.
  • Children's legs when seated in a rear-facing car seat may touch the back of the vehicle seat. This does not present a safety concern and children quickly adapt to the situation and learn to position their legs in a comfortable position. The fact remains that children up to age two and even older are better protected in a rear-facing car seat.
  • Generally, most forward-facing car seats with harnesses have an upper weight limit of 40 pounds. Read your car seat instructions to check the upper weight limit of your forward-facing car seat.
    • Car seats with harnesses are crash tested to the upper weight limit specified by the manufacturer. If a child is over the weight limit, car seat performance is unknown.
    • There are many car seats available that have harnesses with a higher weight limit of up to 65 pounds.

Selecting a Forward-facing car seat


    Forward-Facing Convertible Car Seat


    Combination Car Seat

  • When your child is 2-years-old or has reached the upper weight limit of the car seat, you can turn your convertible car seat to the forward-facing position. Follow the car seat manufacturer's guidelines.
  • Infant-only carrier seats cannot be used forward-facing and are only designed for use with a rear-facing infant.
  • A combination car seat can be used forward-facing with the harness and, as your child grows, can be converted to a belt-positioning booster seat.
  • Are you looking for a new car seat for your infant, toddler or 4- to 8-year-old child but overwhelmed by the choices and worried about how to properly install your car seat? NHTSA's Ease of Use Rating system can help you.
  • When selecting a rear-facing car seat ask yourself these questions:
    • Does it fit your child correctly?
    • Is the car seat easy for you to use?
    • Does it fit your car?
    • Can you install the car seat correctly every time?
    • Contact a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician near you.

LOCATION AND DIRECTION OF YOUR CAR SEAT IN THE VEHICLE

  • If it is safe to turn your child forward-facing, face the car seat toward the front of the car.
  • It is best to keep your child rear-facing until he has reached the upper weight and height limit that your car seat allows. Always follow your car seat instructions.
  • The back seat is the safest place for a child car seat.

INSTALLING A CAR SEAT

  • Read your child's car seat instructions. This will help you know the right way to use and install your car seat.
  • Contact a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician near you.
  • Choose to use either the seat belt or lower anchors (LATCH) to secure the car seat to the vehicle's seat. Never use both the seat belt and lower anchors at the same time.
  • When using the seat belt, convertible car seats have two seat belt paths (rear-facing and forward-facing); make sure you choose the forward-facing belt path. See your car seat instructions.
  • Install tightly using the seat belt OR the lower anchor system (LATCH).
  • Always use your car seat's top tether strap if your vehicle has a top tether anchor. Check your vehicle's owner manual for tether anchor location.
  • Check to see if the car seat is secured to the vehicle seat by gripping the car seat at or near the seat belt path and pull on the car seat. There should be no more than 1 inch of side-to side or forward movement at the seat belt path.

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) is a system used to install car seats in a vehicle. Refer to your vehicle owner's manual to see if LATCH is available in your car.

  • If choosing LATCH, check your vehicle owner's manual for the seating positions in your car that can use the LATCH system.
  • In LATCH use, both the car seat and the vehicle must have LATCH parts that work together.
  • Most rear-facing car seats use the lower anchors only. However, check your vehicle owner's manual and car seat instructions to see if tethering rear-facing is possible.
  • When a tether anchor is available, ALWAYS use your car seat's top tether when the child is in a forward-facing car seat. If you choose to use a seat belt rather than the lower anchors to secure your forward-facing car seat to the vehicle, ALWAYS use the top tether strap.
  • A top tether strap can reduce the distance that the child's head moves forward by five inches and can lessen the risk of head injuries in a crash.
  • Check the vehicle owner's manual and the car seat instructions for the LATCH weight limit. Both manuals must be in agreement for top tether and lower anchor use on car seats with higher weight limits. When no guidance is provided, discontinue use of the lower anchors and/or top tether and use the vehicle seat belt for a child heavier than 40 pounds.


    Click here for NHTSA’s LATCH installation instructions

SECURING YOUR CHILD

  • Always follow your car seat's instructions.
  • Use the harness straps to the car seats maximum weight limit, which is at least 40 pounds.
  • If your car seat has an adjustable crotch strap, move the strap closest to your child.
  • Adjust the harness straps at or above your child's shoulder level.
  • Tighten the harness so that you cannot "pinch" any of the harness straps between your fingers.
  • Always use the chest clip to hold the shoulder straps in place. Position the chest clip at armpit level.
  • Buckle in your child.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • For information on transporting children with special needs, go to the "Special Needs" section of this website.
  • Put your child in a booster seat if he weighs more than the harness recommends or if his ears are above the top of the car seat's back.
  • Do not place your child in a backless booster seat until he is at least 4-years-old and 40 pounds.
  • Older cars may need a locking clip on the lap/shoulder belt to secure a car seat to the vehicle. Always read your vehicle and car seat manufacturer's instruction manual. Place the locking clip on the seat belt just before it locks into the buckle.

Q & A

Do I have to use a top tether?

Using a top tether with a forward-facing car seat will reduce forward and side-to-side motion in a crash, helping to prevent head, neck and spinal cord injuries.

How do I determine which harness slot to use for a forward-facing child?

Generally, when children are in forward-facing car seats, the harness straps should be at or above the child’s shoulders. Always refer to your car seat instructions for more information.

If I keep my child rear-facing until age 2 or older, won’t his legs be scrunched?

Children's legs when seated in a rear-facing car seat may touch the back of the vehicle seat. This does not present a safety concern and children quickly adapt to the situation and learn to position their legs in a comfortable position. The fact remains that children up to age two and even older are better protected in a rear-facing car seat.





Resources
Media Room
Helpful Links
Stories
Partners
Contact