Child Passenger Safety, Infants Ages Birth to One Year

Every week about 10 babies ages birth to one year are treated and released from hospital emergency departments because of injuries from motor vehicle crashes in New York State. Each year about 15 infants in this age group are hospitalized 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.

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

NYS law requires children under age four be restrained in a federally approved child safety seat.

Why should my infant use a child safety seat?

Using child safety seats reduces the risk of death in a car crash by 71 percent for infants, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Infants riding unrestrained are four times more likely to be injured in a car crash compared to infants using child safety seats.

Why is riding rear-facing the safest way for infants to travel?

Babies are very fragile. Their bodies and bones are not as strong as an adult or older child. Child safety seats hold infants securely in place and help distribute crash forces over a wide area of their bodies. The back of a rear-facing child safety seat absorbs crash forces protecting your baby's spine and neck from injuries.

What is the best safety seat for my infant?

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. Make sure the child safety seat you use is the proper type for your baby.  Base your choice on your child's weight and height and on whether or not it can be correctly installed in the back seat of your vehicle. Weight and height limits can be found on the child safety seat and in the seat's instruction manual.  Some child safety seats will not work well with some vehicle seats or with certain seat belts.  You may have to try many child safety seats to find the one that can be properly installed in your vehicle.

What types of child safety seats are available?

It is important to select a child safety seat based upon your child's age and size. There are two types of rear-facing child safety seats: infant-only child safety seats and convertible child safety seats.

1. Infant-only child safety seats are designed for rear-facing use only. They have a carrying handle and are used for infants up to 22 to 32 pounds, depending on the model. This type of seat often comes with a base which can be left in the car after being installed in your vehicle. The infant-only seat can be placed in the base to transport your child in the car.

An infant-only child safety seat designed for rear-facing use only.

Most babies outgrow the typical infant–only seat before they are one year old. If using an infant–only seat, it should be replaced with a rear–facing convertible seat when your baby reaches the highest weight (usually 22 to 32 pounds) or height limit of the seat. Refer and follow the manufacturers' instructions for your seat to determine when your infant should use a different type of rear-facing child safety seat.

2.Convertible child safety seats can be used rear-facing until your child reaches the highest rear-facing weight or height limit of the seat and then changed or "converted" to use as a forward-facing seat. This type of seat best accommodates the needs of bigger babies and allows your infant to ride rear-facing for a longer period of time.

Is it safe to use a used child safety seat?

No. Never buy a used child safety seat if you do not know its full history or 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.

How long should my baby ride in a rear-facing child safety seat?

For the best possible protection, your baby should ride in a rear-facing child safety seat as long as possible, up to the height or weight limit of the particular seat. At a minimum, infants should be kept rear-facing until they reach at least age one and 20 pounds. Most convertible child safety seats are approved for rear-facing use up to 30 to 35 pounds and should be used for infants whose height or weight has exceeded the limits of the rear-facing infant-only seats.

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

The safest place for children of any age to ride is properly restrained in the back seat. The center position is preferred, if the seat can be properly installed in this location. Rear-facing child safety seats should never be placed in the front seat of a vehicle with passenger-side air bags. Serious injuries or death could result to the baby if the air bag inflates in a crash.

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 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. Always read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for your child safety seat and the vehicle owner's manual when installing your seat using the LATCH system or the seat belts.

Do I need to use the top tether when installing my rear-facing child safety seat?

Most child safety seats should not be installed rear-facing using the tether strap. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for your child safety seat to see if your seat should use a tether strap.

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 system which provides the best fit.

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

  • Make sure you are using the correct seat for your child's age and weight.
  • 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. The seat should not move more than one inch side to side or forward, when pulled at the safety belt path.
  • A newborn infant's rear-facing child safety seat should be reclined no more than 45 degrees, so the baby's head stays in contact with the seat and the baby's airway stays open.
  • Make sure your infant is properly secured in the safety seat. Make sure the child safety seat harness is threaded through the correct harness slots which should be at or below your baby's shoulders. Make sure the harness of the child safety seat is snug on your baby. You should not have extra webbing between your fingers when pinching the harness strap at the child's shoulder.
  • If you need help, visit a Child Safety Seat Check Up 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

What are some other tips to keep my infant 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.
  • During the winter months dress your infant in layers of clothing instead of a bulky coat or snowsuit so the harness of the child safety seat fits snugly and works properly. A blanket can be tucked around the baby over the buckled harness straps of the child safety seat if needed for warmth. Do not place a thick coat, snowsuit, or blanket under the harness of a child safety seat.
  • Do not use any products in the child safety seat that didn't come from the manufacturer. Add-on toys can injure your infant in a crash.
  • If you need help installing your child safety seat properly, a certified child passenger safety technician can help you. For a list of fitting stations and child safety seat check-up events in your area, go to

Where can I find more information about child passenger safety?