No. 6: Moving to a forward-facing car seat too soon

Resist the urge to place your child's car seat in the forward-facing position just so you can see his or her smile in your rearview mirror. Riding rear facing is recommended until a child reaches age 2 or the highest weight — typically at least 35 pounds (about 16 kilograms) — or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. You can start with a convertible seat, which can be used rear facing or forward facing and typically has a higher rear-facing weight and height limit than an infant-only seat, or switch from an infant-only seat to the convertible variety as your baby grows.

When your child reaches age 2 or the rear-facing weight or height limit of the convertible seat, you can face the seat forward. When you make the switch:

  • Install the car seat in the back seat according to the manufacturer's instructions, using either the seat belt or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system.
  • Use the tether strap — a strap that hooks to the top of the seat and attaches to an anchor in the vehicle — for extra stability.
  • Adjust the harness straps so that they're threaded at or above your child's shoulders. Make sure the harness fits snugly.

No. 7: Dressing your child in bulky outerwear

Harness straps might not provide enough protection over a baby's bulky outerwear. If it's cold, dress your baby in a lightweight jacket and hat. Buckle the harness snugly and then tuck a blanket around your baby for warmth. Save the bulky outerwear for outdoors.

No. 8: Moving to a booster seat too soon

Older children need booster seats to help an adult safety belt fit correctly. You can switch from a car seat to a booster seat when your child has topped the highest weight — typically 40 to 80 pounds (18 to 36 kilograms) — or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Remember, however, that your child is safest remaining in a car seat with a harness for as long as possible.

No. 9: Incorrectly using a booster seat

Booster seats must be used with a lap and shoulder belt — never a lap-only belt. Make sure the lap belt lies low and snug across your child's upper thighs and that the shoulder belt crosses the middle of your child's chest and shoulder.

Some booster seats come without backs. Backless booster seats also must be used with a lap and shoulder belt — never a lap-only belt. If your vehicle has low seat backs or doesn't have a headrest to protect your child's head and neck in a crash, consider using a high-back booster that fits your child's height and weight.

No. 10: Using the vehicle safety belt too soon

Most kids can safely use an adult seat belt sometime between ages 8 and 12. Here's how you'll know that your child is ready:

  • Your child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches (nearly 1.5 meters).
  • Your child sits against the back of the seat with his or her knees bent comfortably at the edge of the seat — and can remain that way for the entire trip.
  • The lap belt rests flat and snugly across your child's upper thighs, and the shoulder belt rests on the middle of your child's shoulder and chest — not on the neck or face.

Make sure your child doesn't tuck the shoulder belt under his or her arm or behind his or her back. Remember, the back seat is the safest place for children younger than age 13.

If you have questions about child passenger safety laws or need help installing a car seat, participate in a local car seat clinic or inspection event. You can also check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for help finding a car seat inspection station.

Sep. 08, 2011 See more In-depth