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Car Seat Installation
Not having the car seat installed properly in the vehicle decreases the effectiveness of the car seat to protect your child during a crash and increases the risk of injury and death. A properly installed car seat does not move more than 1" from front to back and from side to side where it is attached to the vehicle, with the exception of booster seats, which are not installed in the vehicle. The main misuse error made when installing a car seat is that the car seat is too loose.
There are two ways to install a car seat:
A car seat can be installed using either the vehicle's lap-only seat belt or lap and shoulder seat belt. Each car seat has a specific location where the seat belt must be threaded to secure the car seat. This is often referred to as a "belt path".
Each car seat has at least one belt path (though a convertible seat has two belt paths;) one for a rear-facing installation and the other for a forward-facing installation. Refer to the car seat instruction manual to find the correct belt path for your car seat.
Seat Belt Installation
If your vehicle is equipment with LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren), you may be able to install the car seat without using the vehicle seat belt. LATCH consists of two lower anchors in the seat crack of the vehicle that attach to two lower attachment straps on the car seat and a top tether anchor in the vehicle that attach to the top tether strap on the car seat. LATCH was developed to make car seat installation easier by eliminating the need to learn how to lock a seat belt and to eliminate seat belt incompatibility issues. Vehicles with a model year of 2003 or newer are equipment with LATCH.
LATCH often has a weight limit of 40 or 48 pounds so consult with the vehicle owner's manual and the car seat instruction manual to determine the weight limit of LATCH.
LATCH is not a safer installation than a seat belt installation and may not always be easier to use. Choose whichever installation method provides for the best and easiest fit for you. Never use both the seat belt AND the lower attachments portion of the LATCH system. It is best practice, and sometimes required by the car seat manufacturer, to always use a top tether on forward-facing car seats whether you are using the seat belt or the lower attachments to install the car seat.
Since booster seats elevate the child so that the lap and shoulder seat belt fit the child properly, they are not installed but rather serve as a pre-crash positioning device. However, when they are not in use, they should still be secured by the seat belt to prevent the unoccupied booster seat from becoming a flying projectile in a crash. Some manufacturers are designing booster seats that can be installed with LATCH to provide better pre-crash positioning and to secure an unoccupied booster seat. Refer to the booster seat instruction manual for correct use of the seat.
With over 90% of car seats misused, it is highly recommended to have your seat inspected by a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician to learn the proper way to install and use your car seat. View the calendar of events to find a car seat inspection event near you.
Car Seat Harness
Of all of the errors that are made with car seats, half of them are how the child is buckled into the car seat.
Car Seat Harness Tips
With booster seats, always use them with a lap and shoulder seat belt (never with a lap-only seat belt). Ensure that the seat belt is not twisted and is snug on the child, with the shoulder belt resting across the child's chest and collarbone and not behind their back or under their arm.
Consult with a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician for education and an inspection of your child's car seat.
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