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Expectant parents in the United States should all know that if they plan to drive their child home, they will need a car seat. However, anyone who has gone shopping for a car seat knows that the options can be quite overwhelming, especially for first-time parents. As the child grows out of one car seat, choosing the next one can also be an ordeal. Add in the high pressure and desire to keep your child safe and selecting a car seat can seem like an intimidating process.

Fortunately, there are many resources for parents to make the best car seat decision to meet their needs and adequately protect their child at any age. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a website completely dedicated to assisting parents in choosing a car seat for children of any age or size. The site not only guides you according to your child’s age and size, but also provides the ratings for many different brands and models of various types of car seats. There are also sites that show you how to properly install a car seat to ensure safety.

The following are some basic guidelines for selecting a car seat to keep your child safe while riding in the car.

Types of car seats

There are three major types of safety seats and restraint systems that children should use up until a certain age. These are as follows:

  • Rear-facing car seat;
  • Front-facing car seat; and
  • Booster seat.

Every infant should start in a rear-facing car seat. These seats offer maximum protection for the infant’s spinal cord and neck, which have not yet developed full strength. While starting in a rear-facing seat is always recommended, recommendations on when to switch to a forward-facing seat are less specific.

No two children grow exactly the same way or at the same rate, so you cannot base when to switch your car seat solely on a child’s age. Instead, you should consider age, height, and weight all together when deciding to make the switch. Every car seat will have height and weight limits for that particular model and NHTSA recommends that you keep your child in a rear-facing seat as long as possible according to those limits. Most children switch to a forward-facing seat sometime between the ages of one and three years.

Taking your child out of a rear-facing seat depends on each individual situation; as does making the switch from a forward-facing car seat to a booster seat. Again, NHTSA experts recommend that you leave you child in a car seat for as long as possible, as long as they still fit within the height and weight limitations of the particular model you chose. Some larger children outgrow a car seat as early as age four, while smaller-sized children may remain in a car seat as late as age seven. Once your child outgrows a car seat, Georgia law requires them to use a booster seat until at least age eight.

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