Car Seat Safety Checks

Is your car seat installed correctly? 

Car seats and child restraint systems save lives, but only if they’re installed correctly and used properly. It’s a sad fact, but most parents don’t install them the right way. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says two out of every three car seats are misused.

It’s not surprising, since car seats can be complicated. Front-facing, rear-facing, 3-point, 5-point, age and height restrictions, the LATCH system…it may seem like you need an engineering degree to use a car seat properly.  AAA is here to help, with resources and information to keep your little ones safe.

baby car seat safety

Child Passenger Safety

Every 33 seconds, one child under the age of 13 is involved in a crash, according to NHTSA. Many injuries and deaths can be prevented with proper use of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts. Several states are hosting car seat check events in the near future.

Click here  to find a certified technician near you.

Using the LATCH system for car seats

LATCH stands for lower anchors and tethers for children.  (In European vehicles it might be referred to as ISOFIX.)  Vehicle LATCH systems include hardware referred to as lower anchors (located in the bite of the vehicle's back seats) and top tether anchors.  LATCH can make car seat installation easier, by using either the vehicle’s seatbelt OR the lower anchors attachment (but not both). 

It is extremely rare to use a top tether with a rear-facing car seat, but all convertible and infant seats have lower anchors for LATCH (some combination seats do as well).

Keep in mind:

There is a weight limit for use of lower anchors of approximately 65 lbs. (which accounts for the combined weight of the child and the car seat).  Once a child reaches 40 lbs., it is recommended that the car seat be installed using the seat belt rather than the lower anchors. 

Both the LATCH and seatbelt are equally safe when the car seat is installed using the vehicle and car seat owner's manuals.  LATCH seems to make installation easier for many parents. 

On the car seat you will find a top tether which should be used when installing all forward-facing car seats. Top tethers reduce head excursion in a crash to prevent head, neck and spinal cord injury. 

The center rear seat may not allow for LATCH installation.  Check the vehicle owner's manual for direction on whether to use seatbelt or lower anchors.

AAA Car Seat Q&A

  • Transitioning children to the next car seat stage too quickly: from a rear facing seat to forward facing; from a 5-point harness to a booster; or, from a booster to a standard seat belt. In the past decade the weight limits for all stages of car seats have increased as manufacturers start to design child restraints for larger children.

  • Having the harness too loose. If the harness isn’t positioned through the correct slots in the car seat, you won’t have a good, snug fit. Parents should use the slots just below a baby's shoulders while they are riding in a rear-facing position, and the slot at or just above the child's shoulders once they transition to a forward-facing seat.


  • When used properly, child safety seats are designed to "ride down" the forces of a crash on a child's fragile body.  A child's developing body is not the same as a small adult. For example, the same crash forces that might cause an adult to experience what we know as "whiplash" could cause a young child to have an "internal decapitation," a colloquial term for an injury known to surgeons as occipital-cervical dislocation. It potentially fatal injury occurs when the ligaments, muscles and joints that connect the base of the skull to the top of the spine are damaged. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) policies are to keep children riding rear facing until a minimum of age two.
  • You should not be able to pinch any slack in a harness. Note that clothing, such as puffy winter coats, can get in the way of a tight harness fit. During cold weather, try to dress children in warm but thin layers and then use a blanket or poncho over the harness in the car seat.
  • Height and weight – not age – determine when a child outgrows an infant seat. It is easy to tell if a child has outgrown their seat by their height – the top of their head should be at least one inch below the top of the seat’s hard plastic shell.

  • Every seat sold in the US is required to have a weight limit label – usually a large sticker – on the seat.  Manufacturers have varied limits, so always check the sticker!  Some infant seats have a limit of 35lbs, others max out at about 21 lbs.; most convertibles max out at 65lbs, but some have a 40 lb. limit.  Combination seats have harnesses with even higher weight limits.  Above all else remember that a harness will protect a child better than a vehicle seat belt which are designed for adults.


  • According to Dr. Marilyn Bull, the pediatrician who represents AAP on the National Child Passenger Safety Board, children are flexible and able to comfortably cross their legs.  There is no data to support evidence of leg injuries in a crash, but there is a great deal of evidence that keeping them rear facing reduced brain and spinal cord injuries, both of which are serious and often fatal. It is much, much safer to keep them rear facing as long as you can.
  • Oregon: Infants must ride rear-facing until they reach two years of age unless the child turned age one prior to May 26, 2017. Learn More
  • Idaho: To upper height and weight limits of car seat, approximately 4 years and 40-65 pounds. The top tether should be used until the child weighs 40 pounds. Learn More
  • A forward-facing car seat has a 5-point harness system that restrains the child at the strongest parts of their body. This distributes crash forces over a larger area to prevent injury.  The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level, and not down near the child's stomach.  A booster seat requires use of a seat belt, which meets the body at only three points (two hips and one shoulder).  Additionally, seat belts on young children often ride up near their neck, a vulnerable area that should not be met with force). Most modern booster seats come with a belt guide to prevent the seat belt from coming near the neck.  
  • Both the child’s size and behavior should be considered.  Can the child sit for a car ride without wiggling out of the seatbelt, or pulling it behind their back? If they can’t, keep them in a forward-facing seat.  Some smaller children may need more head support than a booster seat offers. And children who nap in a car are more comfortable in a seat with back and head restraints. A forward-facing seat is always safer.  However, once they reach 30 pounds and outgrow the forward-facing seat, they should be switched to a booster.
  • The National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) has a great "Ease of Use" Chart, which has a five star rating system for hundreds of car seats in the market. The website also offers guidance on installing car seats, harnessing children, reading and interpreting labels, and weight guidelines.
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