Child Passenger Safety, Children Ages One to Four Years

Every month about six children ages one to four years are hospitalized and 183 children in this age group are treated and released from hospital emergency departments because of injuries from motor vehicle crashes in New York State (NYS).

The good news is that you, as a parent or caregiver, can play a major role in preventing injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes.

Why should my child use a child safety seat?

Properly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death in car crashes by 47 percent to 54 percent for toddlers and the need for hospitalizations by 69 percent for children aged four years and younger.

What NYS child passenger safety laws are important for me to know?

NYS law requires children under age four to be restrained in a federally approved child safety seat. More information on NYS's Law on child passenger safety can be found at www.safeny.ny.gov.

What is the best safety seat for my child?

The best child safety seat is one that fits your child, is correctly installed in your vehicle, and is used properly every time your child rides in the car.

Consider your child's age, weight and height and on whether or not the seat can be correctly installed in the back seat of your vehicle when selecting a safety seat for your child.  Weight and height limits can be found on the side of the child safety seat and in the seat manufacturer's instructions.

Never buy a used car seat if you don't know its full history and never use a car seat that has been in a crash. Generally, child safety seats more than six years old are not recommended for use as the plastic in the seat breaks down over time. The manufacturer's instructions should include the expiration date for your specific child safety seat. If a date is not included, contact the manufacturer for guidance. Safety seats that are too old should be destroyed, not given away or reused.

What types of child safety seats are available to keep my child safe in the car?

It is important to select a child safety seat based upon your child's age and size.

For best protection, children should ride rear-facing as long as possible, up to the weight and height limits of the convertible child safety seat. Currently, convertible child safety seats can be used rear-facing up to 30 to 45 pounds allowing children to ride rear-facing longer.

  • Convertible child safety seats are used in a forward-facing position when your child reaches the rear-facing weight or height limit of the seat. Check the manufacturer's instructions for your seat or the labels on the side of the seat for the weight and height limits.

A child in a convertible child safety seat used in a forward-facing position.

Re-read the manufacturer's instruction booklet when you turn a convertible safety seat to face forward. The safety seat should be adjusted to an upright position, the shoulder straps moved to slots at or slightly above shoulder level (check seat instructions), and the vehicle belt or LATCH attachments moved to a different part of the safety seat. Make these changes according to the manufacturer's instructions to prevent possible serious injuries to your child. Use a forward-facing convertible child safety seat until your child meets the forward-facing weight or height limit of the seat.

  • Combination child seat/belt-positioning booster seats can be used as a forward-facing child safety seat or booster seat. When your child reaches the height or weight limit of the seat using the harness, it is removed and the seat can be used as a belt-positioning booster with a lap and shoulder belt.
  • Belt-positioning booster seats are for older children who have outgrown forward-facing child safety seat, usually around four years of age and 40 pounds. They provide the needed height to properly position the vehicle's lap/shoulder belts on children who are too small to fit the adult seat belt.  Boosters are rated for use from 30 to 40 lbs to 80 to 100 pounds. Booster seats do not have a harness and must be used with a lap and shoulder belt. Belt positioning booster seats are used until the lap and shoulder belt fit properly usually when a child is more than four feet and nine inches tall.

My child is three years old and is too big to use a child safety seat. What do I do?

A harnessed seat (convertible, combination seat, or forward-facing only) should be used as long as possible, according to the manufacturer's weight and height limits.

If your child outgrows a forward-facing child safety seat before reaching age four, consider using a forward-facing child safety seat with a higher weight limit. Seats with weight limits of more than 40 pounds have a top tether that attaches to a tether anchor in your vehicle. Some seats require the use of this tether if your child remains in the harness up to a higher weight limit. Read and follow your car seat instruction manual and your vehicle owner's manual when installing the seat in your car.

Where is the safest place for my child to ride in my vehicle?

The safest place for children of any age to ride is properly restrained in the back seat of your vehicle. The center position is preferred, if the seat can be properly installed in this location.

How do I make sure the child safety seat is installed correctly in my car?

  • Make sure you're using the correct seat for your child's age and size.
  • When installing a child safety seat in a motor vehicle, it is important to read and follow the instructions for the child safety seat and the vehicle's owner's manual.
  • The child safety seat should be installed tightly in the back seat of the vehicle using the seat belts or LATCH system. The seat should not move more than one inch side to side or forward, when pulled at the safety belt path.
  • Attend a Child Safety Seat Check Up event or Child Safety Seat Fitting Station near you. A certified child passenger safety technician will provide hands-on education so you can be sure your child is protected on every ride. For a list of events and fitting stations, visit www.safeny.ny.gov.

What is LATCH and how is it used?

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) is a system that can be used to install your child safety seat in your vehicle without using the seat belts. LATCH is required on child safety seats and most vehicles made after September 1, 2002.

The LATCH system includes lower anchor straps which come attached to the rear of the child safety seat. The lower anchor straps are attached to lower anchors which are found in the crease between the vehicle seat cushions in rear seating positions. Not all seating positions have lower anchors so it is important to refer to your vehicle owner's manual to locate them in your vehicle.

A top tether is a strap found at the top rear of convertible child safety seats, forward-facing seats, and combination seats that connects the seat to an anchor found in the vehicle at a place behind the child safety seat. The vehicle owner's manual will indicate the location of the tether anchors in the vehicle. The tether prevents the forward movement of the top of a forward-facing child safety seat in a frontal crash. This limits the forward motion of a child's head and neck in a crash, lowering the risk of injuries. Top tethers should be used when the seat is installed using the seat belt or with the lower anchors (as part of the LATCH system). 

It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for your child safety seat and the vehicle owner's manual when installing a child safety seat with LATCH or the seatbelts.

Is it safer to use LATCH to install my child safety seat than the seat belts?

Not necessarily.  A child safety seat properly installed with a seatbelt should be as safe as a seat properly installed with LATCH.  It may be easier to use LATCH to properly install your child safety seat.

Can I use both LATCH and the seatbelt to install my child safety seat?

You should not use both LATCH and the seatbelts to install your child safety seat. Use the one which provides the best fit.

What are some other tips to keep my child safe when riding in the car?

  • Fill out the registration card for your child safety seat and mail it to the child safety seat manufacturer so you are notified if your seat is recalled.
  • Make sure your child is properly secured in his/her child safety seat. The child safety seat harness should be threaded through the correct harness slots, according to the instructions for your safety seat. The chest or harness clip should be at armpit level and the harness of the child safety seat should be snug on the child so that extra webbing cannot be pinched at the child's shoulder.

Where can I find more information about child passenger safety?