Car Seat Program

Ohio Buckles Buckeyes Car Seat Program

One of the most important jobs you have as a parent is keeping your child safe when riding in a vehicle. Each year thousands of young children are killed or injured in car crashes. Proper use of car safety seats helps keep children safe. But with so many different car safety seats on the market, it’s no wonder many parents find this overwhelming.

The type of seat your child needs depends on several things including age, size, and type of vehicle. To be sure your child is using the most appropriate seat, read on.

Types of car safety seats at a glance

The chart below is a quick guide to where to start your search. Once you’ve found your car safety seat, it’s important to read more about the seat in this guide.

Age Type of Seat General Guideline
Infants Infant-only and rear-facing (RF) convertible All infants should always ride rear-facing until they are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. This is the earliest possible time a child can be transitioned to forward-facing. It is considered “best practice” to leave a child rear-facing as long as possible, as this is the safest way to travel and minimizes the chances of severe spinal injury. Therefore, infants really should ride rear-facing until they have exceeded the weight limit of their RF carseat which is usually over 20-40 pounds. 
Toddlers Preschoolers Convertible, combination, and forward-facing Children 1 year of age and at least 20 pounds may ride forward-facing, although it is best to keep them rear-facing as long as possible. Forward-facing carseats use an adjustable harness to spread the crash-forces over the trunk of the childs body, but do not protect the head and neck as well as a rear-facing carseat.
School-aged children Booster Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing car safety seats. Children should stay in a booster seat until the adult seat belts fit correctly (usually when a child reaches about 4′ 9″ in height and is between 8 and 12 years of age).
Older children Seat belts Children who have outgrown their booster seats should ride in a lap and shoulder belt; they should ride in the back seat until 13 years of age.

The Right Car Safety Seat


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants should ride rear-facing starting with their first ride home from the hospital until they have reached at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. It is even better for them to ride rear-facing until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer. There are 2 types of rear-facing car safety seats: infant-only seats and convertible seats.


  • Are small and have carrying handles (and sometimes come as part of a stroller system).
  • Are used for infants up to 22 to 40 pounds, depending on the model.
  • Many come with a base that can be left in the car. The seat clicks into and out of the base so you don’t have to install the base each time you use it. Parents can even buy more than one base for additional vehicles.


  • Can be used rear-facing then “converted” to forward-facing for older children. This means the seat can be used longer by your child. They are bulkier than infant seats, however, and do not come with carrying handles or a separate base.
  • Have higher rear-facing weight and height limits than infant-only seats, which makes them ideal for bigger babies.
  • Have the following types of harnesses:
  • 5-point harness—attach at the shoulders, hips, and between the leg
  • Overhead shield—a padded tray-like shield that swings down over the child
  • T-shield—a padded t-shaped or triangle-shaped shield attached to the shoulder straps

The harnesses differences can be seen in the above illustration.


When using a rear-facing seat, keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure the car safety seat is installed tightly in the vehicle and that the harness fits the child snugly.
  • Never place a rear-facing car safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has a front passenger air bag. If the air bag inflates, it will hit the back of the car safety seat, right where your baby’s head is, and could cause serious injury or death.
  • If your rear-facing seat has more than one set of harness slots, make sure the harnesses are in the slots at or below your baby’s shoulders.
  • Be sure you know what kind of seat belts your vehicle has. Some seat belts need locking clips. Locking clips come with all new car safety seats. If you’re not sure, check the manual that came with your vehicle. Locking clips are not needed in most newer vehicles.
  • If you are using a convertible seat in the rear-facing position, make sure the seat belt is routed through the correct belt path. Check the instructions that came with the car safety seat to be sure.
  • If your vehicle was made after 2002, it may come with the LATCH system, which is used to secure car safety seats. See below for information on using LATCH.
  • Make sure the seat is at the correct angle so your infant’s head does not flop forward. Many seats have angle indicators or adjusters that can help prevent this. If your seat does not have an angle adjuster, tilt the car safety seat back by putting a rolled towel or other firm padding (such as a pool noodle) under the base near the point where the back and bottom of the vehicle seat meet.
  • Be sure the car safety seat is installed tightly. If you can move the seat more than an inch side to side or front to back, it’s not tight enough.
  • Still having trouble? There may be a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician in your area that can help. See below for information on how to locate one.


Once your child is at least 1 year of age and weighs at least 20 pounds, she can ride forward-facing. However, it is best for her to ride rear-facing to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of her car safety seat. She should ride in a forward-facing seat with a harness until she outgrows it (usually at around 4 years of age and about 40 pounds) although some seats have weight limits up to 65 pounds. A full-harness system offers better overall protection than a vehicle lap-shoulder belt or a belt-positioning booster seat.

There are 5 types of car safety seats that can be used forward-facing.

  • Convertible seats—seats that “convert” from rear-facing to forward-facing seats.
  • Forward-facing toddler seats—these seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 80 pounds (depending on the model).
  • Combination forward-facing/booster seats—these seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 65 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 80 to 100 pounds).
  • Built-in seats—some vehicles come with forward-facing seats built in. Weight and height limits vary. Read your vehicle owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for details about how to use these seats.
  • Travel vests—these can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and can be an alternative to traditional forward-facing seats. They are also useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear.


Make sure the car safety seat is installed tightly in the vehicle and that the harness fits the child snugly.

To switch a convertible seat from rear-facing to forward-facing:

  • Move the shoulder straps to the slots that are at or above your child’s shoulders. On some convertible seats, the top harness slots must be used when facing forward. Check the instructions that came with the seat to be sure.
  • You may have to adjust the recline angle of the seat. Check the instructions to be sure.
  • Make sure the seat belt runs through the forward- facing belt path. When making these changes, always follow the car safety seat instructions.
  • If your vehicle was made after 2002, it should come with the LATCH system, which is used to secure car safety seats. See below for information on using LATCH.

A tether is a strap that attaches to the top of a car safety seat and to an anchor point in your vehicle (see your owner’s manual to find where the tether anchors are in your vehicle). Tethers give extra protection by keeping the car safety seat and the child’s head from moving too far forward in a crash or sudden stop. All new cars, minivans, and light trucks have been required to have tether anchors since September 2000. New forward-facing car safety seats come with tethers. For older seats, tether kits are available. Check with the car safety seat manufacturer to find out how you can get a tether if your seat does not have one.

Child care programs and schools should have written guidelines for transporting children. These guidelines should include the following:

  • All drivers must have a valid driver’s license. In some states, school bus drivers need to have a special type of license.
  • Staff-to-child ratios for transport should meet or exceed those required for the classroom.
  • Every child should be supervised during transport, either by school staff or a parent volunteer, so the driver can focus on driving.
  • School staff, teachers, and drivers should know what do to in an emergency, know how to properly use car safety seats and seat belts, and be aware of other safety requirements.
  • For more information on written transportation guidelines for schools and child care programs, visit and


Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing car safety seats. A child has outgrown his forward-facing seat when one of the following is true:

  • The child reaches the top weight or height allowed for his seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and are also included in the instruction booklet.)
  • His shoulders are above the top harness slots.
  • His ears have reached the top of the seat.

Booster seats are designed to raise the child up so that the lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly. High-back and backless booster seats are available. They do not come with harness straps but are used with the lap and shoulder seat belts in your vehicle, the same way an adult rides. Booster seats should be used until your child can correctly fit in lap and shoulder seat belts. Booster seats typically include a plastic clip or guide to help ensure the correct use of the vehicle lap and shoulder belts. See the instruction booklet that came with the booster seat for directions on how to use the guide or clip.


Booster seats must be used with a lap and shoulder belt (never a lap-only belt). When using a booster seat, make sure:

  • The lap belt lies low and snug across your child’s upper thighs.
  • The shoulder belt crosses the middle of your child’s chest and shoulder.


Seat belts are made for adults. Your child should stay in a booster seat until adult seat belts fit correctly (usually when the child reaches about 4′ 9″ in height and is between 8 and 12 years of age). This means:

  • The shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat.
  • The lap belt is low and snug across the upper thighs, not the belly.
  • Your child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with her knees bent without slouching and can stay in this position comfortably throughout the trip.

Other points to keep in mind when using seat belts include:

  • Make sure your child does not tuck the shoulder belt under her arm or behind her back. This leaves the upper body unprotected, putting your child at risk of serious injury in a crash or with sudden braking.
  • Never allow anyone to “share” seat belts. All passengers must have their own car safety seats or seat belts.

Shopping for Car Safety Seats

When shopping for a car safety seat, keep the following tips in mind:

  • No one seat is the “best” or “safest.” The best seat is the one that fits your child’s age and size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and can be used properly every time you drive.
  • Don’t decide by price alone. A higher price does not mean the seat is safer or easier to use.
  • Avoid used seats if you don’t know the seat’s history. Never use a car seat that:
  • Is too old. Look on the label for the date it was made. Check with the manufacturer to find out how long they recommend using the seat.
    Has any visible cracks on it.
  • Does not have a label with the date of manufacture and model number. Without these, you cannot check to see if the seat has been recalled.
  • Does not come with instructions. You need them to know how to use the seat.
  • Is missing parts. Used car safety seats often come without important parts. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you can get the right parts.
  • Was recalled. You can find out by calling the manufacturer or by contacting the Auto Safety Hotline at 888/DASH-2-DOT (888/327-4236) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at
  • Do not use seats that have been in a moderate or severe crash. Seats that were in a minor crash may still be safe to use. The NHTSA considers a crash minor if all of the following are true:
  • The vehicle could be driven away from the crash.
  • The vehicle door closest to the car safety seat was not damaged.
  • No one in the vehicle was injured.
  • The air bags did not go off.
  • You can’t see any damage to the car safety seat.

If you are unsure, call the manufacturer of the seat. See “Manufacturer phone numbers and Web sites” below for manufacturer contact information.

Installing Car Safety Seats Correctly


All new cars come with front air bags. When used with seat belts, air bags work very well to protect teenagers and adults. However, air bags can be very dangerous to children, particularly those riding in rear-facing car safety seats and to child passengers who are not properly positioned. If your vehicle has a front passenger air bag, infants in rear-facing seats must ride in the back seat. Even in a relatively low-speed crash, the air bag can inflate, strike the car safety seat, and cause serious brain and neck injury and death.

Vehicles with no back seat or a back seat that is not made for passengers are not the best choice for traveling with small children. However, the air bag can be turned off in some of these vehicles if the front seat is needed for a child passenger. See your vehicle owner’s manual for more information.


Side air bags improve safety for adults in side-impact crashes. Read your vehicle owner’s manual for more information about the air bags in your vehicle. Read your car safety seat manual for guidance on placing the seat next to a side air bag.


LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is an attachment system that eliminates the need to use seat belts to secure the car safety seat. Vehicles with the LATCH system have anchors located in the back seat. Car safety seats that come with LATCH have attachments that fasten to these anchors. Nearly all passenger vehicles and all car safety seats made on or after September 1, 2002, come with LATCH. However, unless both your vehicle and the car safety seat have this anchor system, you will still need to use seat belts to install the car safety seat.


If you have questions or need help installing your car safety seat, find a certified CPS Technician. A list of certified CPS Technicians is available by state or ZIP code on the NHTSA Web site at A list of inspection stations—where you can go to learn how to correctly install a car safety seat—is available in English and Spanish at or toll-free at 866/SEATCHECK (866/732-8243). You can also get this information by calling the toll-free NHTSA Auto Safety Hotline at 888/DASH-2-DOT (888/327-4236) from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday.


  • Be a good role model. Make sure you always wear your seat belt. This will help your child form a lifelong habit of buckling up.
  • Never leave your child alone in or around cars. Any of the following can happen when a child is left alone in or around a vehicle:
  • Temperatures can reach deadly levels in minutes, and the child can die of heat stroke.
  • The child can be strangled by power windows, sunroofs, or accessories.
  • The child can knock the vehicle into gear, setting it in motion.
  • The child can be backed over when the vehicle backs up.
  • The child can become trapped in the trunk of the vehicle.
  • Always read and follow manufacturer’s instructions. If you do not have the manufacturer’s instructions for your car safety seat, write or call the company’s customer service department. They will ask you for the model number, name of seat, and date of manufacture. The manufacturer’s address and phone number are on the label on the seat. Also be sure to follow the instructions in your vehicle owner’s manual about using car safety seats.

NHTSA Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians are specialty-trained people who are available across the country to assist parents with car seat installation problems. To locate a Technician near you, go to and click on “Find a Car Seat Technician.

The Portsmouth City Health Department offers free car seat inspections and assistance by appointment by calling 740-353-8863.  The Portsmouth City Health Department also administers the Ohio Buckles Buckeyes Program which assists eligible Scioto County families to acquire car seats. Learn more about Ohio Buckles Buckeyes at