Buckle up for Safety: Car Seat Resources and Tips

One of the most difficult things my husband and I did in preparing for our daughter’s birth was to research, select, and attempt to safely install her infant car seat. I heard from countless other parents things like “it takes a village to install a seat”, “we have multiple degrees and we can’t figure it out”, and “I can’t find a place to get a safety check.” We eventually found a car seat check event sponsored by AAA but it took many calls and searches.

There are infinite combinations of seats, cars, and families. It can be overwhelming to try and find reliable and accessible information on what seat you need and how to choose the best seat for your budget, car and child.  Kids should be in car seats for YEARS so the decisions don’t end after the infant stage.

Buckle up
Buckle up

So what do you need to know? Here’s my list of top resources.

What is the law on Child Passenger Seat Safety in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts state law requires all children to be in a Federally-approved child seat that is properly fastened and secured until they are 8 years old or over 57 inches tall. Height is more important than age because it impacts how the safety belts in your car will fit. Once your child outgrows the infant seat and/or convertible seat they move on to boosters. Note that laws vary by state and also internationally. 

How do I figure out what seat I need and when?

All new seats sold reputably (not used) in the U.S. have been crash tested to conform to government standards. Both height and weight are important factors in choosing a seat and knowing when it is time to get a new one. Check out this 3-Step checklist at NHTSA’s Parents Central site. The site is also available in Spanish. Another great resource is Car Seats for the Littles which also has a Facebook group where you can ask questions, get tips, compare brands, etc.

How long should my child ride rear-facing?

As long as possible. The minimum age in most states, and as recommended by the AAP, is at least age two. Many CPS Technicians and others recommend rear-facing as long as possible and as close to age four as possible. See some information on extended rear-facing and common myths busted here.

Where Can I get help installing my seat(s)?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration CPS Seat Inspection Locator

Safe Kids USA

Call the MA Executive Office of Public Safety CPS Hotline at 1-877-392-5956 or TTY 617-725-0261

How do I know if I need a new car seat if my car was involved in a crash? Or Recalled, or too old?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends car seats be replaced following moderate or severe crashes. Minor crashes are defined as those that meet ALL of the following criteria: the vehicle was able to drive away, the nearest door to the safety seat was undamaged, there were no injuries to vehicle occupants, the air bags did not deploy, AND there is no visible damage to the safety seat. When in doubt contact your car seat manufacturer and many offer replacements.

Always register your seat upon purchase with the manufacturer to be notified of recalls. You can also check the NHTSA Child Safety Seat Recall List. Check the expiration date on your seats. Check your child’s height and weight against the seat instructions every 6 months or so to ensure your child is still within the safe limits of the seat.

What if I can’t afford a new seat?

There are resources available to parents and families who need assistance purchasing a new and safe car seats. Buying used or hand me down seats is not advised because you can’t be guaranteed of the integrity of the seat. Ask at your hospital, WIC office, fire station, or police station for resources. Babies R Us also offers discounts on seats during annual trade-in events. If you have an expired seat and you need to throw it out always cut the safety harness to ensure it cannot be used in another car.

3 general tips on car seat safety:

  1. Ideally there should be no hard toys, cups, snacks or other loose items in the car or car seat. These items could present safety hazards especially in the event of an accident. Secure loose objects to protect everyone.
  2. In winter/cold months your child should not be wearing bulky winter coats in their seat. This can impact the effectiveness of the seat in a crash. Buckle them safely and cover with a blanket. More winter tips are here.
  3. Do not use anything to alter the straps, harness, or seat that are not approved for use by the car seat manufacturer.