Melissa Arca: Stand firm on where your kids sit in the car

11/29/2012 12:00 AM

11/28/2012 3:37 PM

When it comes to car seat safety, I don't mess around. As my reluctant 7 1/2-year-old will attest to, since he is still in a five-point harness.

I figure, we're in the car for so many hours out of our days, it's best to keep them in the safest seat possible for as long as possible. And these days, five-point harness car seats can comfortably accommodate many 7-year-old boys with room to grow.

So, as we rapidly approach another major holiday and all the traveling that accompanies it, I thought I'd share with you my top five car seat safety tips to cover babies right on through to the teen years.

Keep your baby or toddler rear-facing as long as possible, preferably until at least 2 years old. Once your baby outgrows her infant car seat, she can graduate to a convertible car seat (one that can face either backward or forward). And don't worry; it's perfectly fine for her to sit frog-legged back there.

Keep your child in a five-point harness for as long as possible. So, your child is 4 years old and weighs more than 40 pounds? No need to rush to the booster. My son is literally counting the days until he can move up and out from his, but I'm serious when I say that it is safer, and they make five-point harness car seats that can accommodate up to 80 pounds.

As long as your child is within the height and weight limit of his five-point harness, it really is the safer way to travel. Sure, he's received some peer flak for it during car pools, but we shrug and laugh it off.

Safety is more important.

The LATCH system in today's cars has a weight limit. This is something that not many parents are aware of. The combination of your child's weight plus the weight of your car seat should not exceed 65 pounds. If you're unsure about the weight of your car seat, switch to the seat belt to secure the car seat if your child weighs more than 40 pounds.

Don't rush out of a booster. Once your child is ready for a booster, keep her there until she's 4 feet, 9 inches tall. This is to ensure that the seat belt fits your child properly and that it's not riding across her neck or above her hips. There is a wonderful five-step test on The Car Seat Lady's website (www.thecarseatlady.com) that is perfect for finding out if your child is ready to move out of her booster. This could be at any age from 8 to 13!

Currently in California, it is the law for children to ride in a booster until they reach age 8 and at least 4 feet, 9 inches in height.

No riding in the front seat until 13 years old. Stay strong on this one. The recommendation is a solid one. Though your "bigger than me" 12-year-old may seem just fine in the front seat, on the inside her bones are still developing. Studies have demonstrated that the back seat is safest until then.

Here's to safe and fun holiday travels for you and your family.

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