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So, you’re in the market for a child car seat and you walk into your local retailer only to find dozens of seats on the shelf and no way to make an easy decision.  First and foremost, you need to view this purchase as being for a “safety seat” not just a car seat.


But I probably didn’t need to tell you that safety was the number one key, but that also didn’t make your decision any easier.  You see a tag that says ‘meets or exceeds FMVSS 213” safety standard so you rush to pick up that particular model.  Then you notice that all of the other choices have the same tag.  Then you ask yourself how the car seat that sells for $20 can carry the same safety tag as the child seat that sells for $200.  You might think that it doesn’t matter, but it does.


In a world of “it will never happen to me,” thousands of children are killed each year due to injuries sustained in a car crash.  According to NHTSA statistics, more then 9500 children, from birth through age 8, were killed and almost 1.5 million were injured in motor vehicle crashes from 1991 to 20002.  Those are alarming statistics, especially given the laws requiring that children use child restraint car seats.  However, the statistics show that properly used child seats can reduce the chance of death in an accident by as much as 71%.


I encourage you to go back home and do some much needed research before you make that most important decision.  Read some guides on how to choose a car safety seat.  Review the websites of various manufacturers.  Research the federal safety guidelines.  Have a good understanding of your child’s physical structure, particularly height and weight, and have a general understanding of the anatomical structure of children, particularly the head, neck and abdomen. 


To get you started, here is a brief overview of the types of child restraint seats that are available in the United States:


  1. Infant seats – these should only be used in “rear facing” mode.  They are designed for use with children who weigh no more than 22 pounds and have reached the age of one. Many of these come with a removable base.


  1. Convertible seats – these can be used in “rear facing” mode with children who weigh no more than 35 pounds and are at least one year old.  These seats can be “converted” to forward facing seats for children who weigh up to 65 pounds.  These seats are usually available with a tray shield or “T”shield harness.


  1. Low shield booster seats – these seats are no longer being sold, but are still available in the resale markets.  These are forward facing seats for children weighing between 30 – 60 pounds.  These seats often contain conflicting warnings and instructions with regard to the correct weight range.


  1. Combination seats – these seats are forward facing and are used, with a harness, in children weighing up to 40 pounds.  Once the child reaches 40 pounds, then the harness can be removed and the seat relies on the car’s belt system for restraint.  These seats should never be used with only a lap belt.


  1. High Back Booster Seats – these are forward facing seats and are generally recommended for children weighing between 20 – 100 pounds.  These seats have no built-in harness system, so the car’s belting system must be used.  Basically these seats simply raise the child to a level that allows the proper use of the car’s lap/shoulder belt system.


  1. Backless Booster Seats – these seats are very similar to the High Back Booster Seat but they have no back and, thus, no back support.  They are not suitable for cars with low seat backs or with no headrests.


  1. Integrated Safety Seats – new model cars comes with “built in” child seats that typically fold down out of the automobile seat.  These seats are forward facing only. 


As you can see, there are many choices and one size definitely does not fit all.   So do your homework before you buy.

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