Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran, there are a few things to keep in mind while driving with children. The safest place for children twelve and under is always in the back seat. If you must place an infant or toddler in the front seat, make sure the passenger airbag is turned off. Every passenger in your car should have his/her own seat and seatbelt. In an accident, two children who are sharing a seatbelt could have their heads knocked together with fatal results, and a child held in your lap could be crushed or thrown through the windshield. Virginia Law requires all children up to 8 years of age be in a car seat.
Studies indicate that 80% of car seats are not installed correctly, which means that they may not protect your child in an accident. Most fire stations will inspect car seats for proper installation. Make sure your car seat is appropriate for the children’s age/weight. For all five-point harness systems on infant/toddler seats, the harness should be snug, with just barely enough room for your hand between the straps and the child. The cross-strap should be high on the child’s chest, about at armpit level. If it sits too low, your child could be ejected from the seat. From birth through two years, children should be in a rear-facing seat. Most babies outgrow the infant carrier around one year old, but there are toddler seats that can be rear-facing from one to two years old, and then convert to forward-facing. From two through four they should be in a forward-facing toddler seat, still with a five-point harness. From five through at least eight they should be in a booster seat. After eight years of age, they can lose the booster seat if they have reached the proper height so that the lap part of the seat belt sits across the upper thighs (not stomach), and the shoulder strap lies across the chest and shoulder (not the neck or face). For all of these guidelines, make sure you also follow the height/weight recommendations of the seat’s manufacturer, each can differ slightly.
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Many people also don’t realize that car seats expire, usually six years after manufacturing. They are made of plastic that can become brittle and break down over time, especially when exposed to the extreme heat and cold that comes with being in the car year-round. Destroy seats that have passed the expiration date, as they are unsafe in accidents. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration also recommends replacing car seats that have been in moderate or severe accidents even if there is no visible damage because the integrity of the plastic has likely been compromised. Often the insurance company compensating for the accident will cover the cost of replacement. It may seem expensive to change car seats so often, but the safety of your child is worth it!
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