Child Car Seat Guidelines by Age Range

child car seat guidelines

Many states require that passengers under the age of five be secured in an appropriate child restraint system. It is important for parents or legal guardians to always read and follow child car seat guidelines, as well as manufacturers’ installation instructions and weight and height guidelines.

Child Car Seat Guidelines – Newborns to 12 Months

Children weighing less than 20 pounds and under age 1 should ride in rear-facing infant car seats, or convertible seats used in a rear-facing position.

  • A rear-facing safety seat should never be installed in front of an active airbag.
  • A rear-facing safety seat should be installed to recline 30 to 45 degrees.
  • While in a rear-facing safety seat, a child’s head must be at least one inch below the top of the seat.
  • When using a seat in rear-facing position, use the harness straps and slots in the safety seat at or below shoulder level of the child.
  • Harness straps in the safety seat must be snug on the child. The harness clip — the clip on safety seat that goes across the child’s chest — should be at armpit level.

Child Car Seat Guidelines – Children Ages 1-5

A child should remain in a rear-facing safety seat until age 2, or until the upper weight or height limits of a seat have been met. When a child outgrows a rear-facing safety seat, he or she may transition to a forward-facing seat with a harness system.

  • Use the internal harness system of the safety seat until the upper weight or height limit has been reached.
  • Use harness straps and slots in the safety seat at or above shoulder level when forward-facing.
  • The safety seat’s harness straps should be snug on the child. The harness clip should be at armpit level.
  • When in a forward-facing safety seat, the top of the child’s ears should not be above the top of the seat.

Child Car Seat Guidelines for Children Ages 5-8

Children should be secured in a forward-facing safety seat, with the internal harness system of the safety seat, until they reach the upper weight or height limits allowed by the manufacturer.

When a child outgrows the forward-facing seat, he or she may transition to a belt-positioning booster seat. In Arizona, for example, state law requires any child who is less than 80 pounds and less than four feet, nine inches tall to be placed in a booster seat while riding in a vehicle.

  • Booster seats must be used with the vehicle’s shoulder and lap belt — not just a lap belt.
  • The lap belt needs to lie low across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should rest snugly across the shoulder and chest, not across the neck or face.
  • If the booster seat has a back, the top of the child’s ears should not be above the top of the back seat.
  • If using a backless booster seat, the vehicle’s head restraint must be positioned properly.
  • When the booster seat is not in use, make sure that the seat is secured with the vehicle’s seat belt.

How To Get Assistance with Installing and Inspecting Your Car Seat

In Arizona:
View Raising Arizona Kids’ list of resources for help with car seat safety requirements, installations, and product recalls.

In Colorado:
Visit Carseats Colorado for information on stations that offer car seat inspections, to ensure that your car seat is fully operational and properly installed.

In California:
See the California Highway Patrol’s site for assistance with car seat safety requirements, installation, and product recalls.

Negretti & Associates encourages you to do your part in following your state’s seat belt laws and helping to save lives!