Buckle up: Your guide to car seats

You know that a car seat is essential for keeping your child safe in the car. But not just any car seat will do. Read on for a look at what you should know about car seats.

Car seats are often one of the first items parents add to their baby registry when they’re expecting. And for good reason — they’re vitally important.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death among children, but car seats reduce the risk of injury by up to 82 percent. Car seats help protect kids by keeping them in place when the car swerves, stops suddenly or crashes.

Here’s what you should know about car seats:

Choose carefully. There are four types of car seats (or restraint systems), with each designed for certain stages of development.

The type of car seat your child needs depends on his or her age and weight. In the past, rear-facing car seats were recommended for kids up to age 1. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children remain rear-facing until they are at least 2 — or until they reach the seat’s maximum recommended height/weight.

Rear-facing car seats have a harness that cradles a child in the case of a crash. This helps reduce the stress placed on a little one’s neck and spine. Tennessee state law mandates that children younger than age 1 or who weigh less than 20 pounds must be secured in a rear-facing car seat.

Front-facing car seats also have a harness that helps protect your child, but, as the name indicates, the seat is faced forward. If a child is between the ages of 1 and 3 and weighs more than 20 pounds, Tennessee state law mandates that he or she be secured in either a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat.

Car bed restraint systems should be used for children under 5 pounds or for those with a medical need to lie flat.

Booster seats consist of a seat that boosts your child’s height so that the seat belt fits properly. Tennessee state law mandates that children ages 4 to 8 or who are shorter than 4’9” must be secured in a booster seat.

Seat belts are recommended as a restraint once a child has outgrown a booster seat. Under Tennessee state law, children ages 9 to 12 and 4’9” or taller must be restrained by a seat belt.

No matter the type of restraint system, Tennessee state law mandates that all children be seated in the back seat, if available.

Once you’ve chosen a car seat, ensure it’s installed correctly. The best way to do this? Work with a car seat inspector, which can typically be found through police and fire departments, health departments, and hospitals.

Use properly. For starters, don’t use a car seat that’s too old, has visible cracks, was recalled or is missing parts. Make sure that the seat you’re using has a label on it that identifies when it was manufactured and the model number.

There’s one factor for car seat safety that many parents don’t consider. During the winter, children are often bundled up to fend off the cold. But it’s vitally important that they not wear their coats while in a car seat. When a child is wearing extra layers of clothing, the straps of the car seat will likely be too loose to properly restrain him or her.

Instead of putting your child in a coat while in the car, strap your little one in the car seat without the coat. Once your child is secured, you can place the coat or a blanket on top of the seat for extra warmth.

Children’s Hospital at Erlanger has partnered with Kohl’s Cares to bring parents the information they need to keep their kids Safe and Sound. Safe and Sound at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger offers free car seat checks every Wednesday from 9am–12pm and Thursdays from 3pm–6pm. No appointment necessary.