Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death or serious injury for children under the age of five in the United States. Everyone should know that the safest way to transport young children is in a child safety seat in the rear seat of the car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that, when correctly used, safety seats cut the risk of a child dying in a crash by 71%. They lower the risk of a child being seriously injured by 67%.

Carefully selecting and properly installing a safety seat, however, is just as important as using one for your child. Safety seats come in four basic models that are designed to protect different sizes of children:

  • Infant seats for children under 20 pounds
  • Toddler seats for children between 20 and 40 pounds
  • Convertible seats for children from birth to 40 pounds
  • Booster seats for children between 40 and 70 pounds

In selecting a seat, consider these safety tips:

  • The label should say it meets current federal safety standards.
  • Most seats manufactured before 1981 do not meet current federal crash standards.
  • A seat that has been through a crash may no longer provide adequate protection.
  • Do not use a household "infant carrier" as a car seat.

Safety seats are not installed the same way in every car. Take time to read the instructions that come with the seat as well as any special directions which may be in the owner's manual for the car. When installing a seat, consider these safety tips:

  • Avoid placing seats in the front seat of a car with a passenger-side air bag.
  • Use a locking clip with a lap/shoulder belt if the seat seems unlikely to stay in place (The seller should supply a locking clip with the seat).
  • Face infants toward the rear of the car.
  • Avoid securing seats with motorized seat belts or belts attached directly to the door.

Unfortunately, child safety seats are among the most commonly recalled consumer products. Last year alone Consumer Reports alerted its readers to safety problems affecting some 8.5 million seats.

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