Car and Car Seat Safety

Learn more about the proper car seat for your child.

Car Seat

The law requires children who are under the age of 4 or who weigh less than 40 pounds to ride in a car seat.* Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommend car seats or booster seats for children who are 8 years old or younger and for children over the age of 8 who weigh 80 pounds or less. As of Feb. 21, 2003, Pennsylvania law requires that children ages 4 to 8 years old who are passengers in motor vehicles be restrained in a booster seat. The best time to purchase a car seat is before your baby is born so you can learn how to install and use it properly. Car seats, when properly used, can reduce the chance of death by 90 percent and injury by 70 percent.

Injury Prevention Car Safety cartoon

There are many different types of car seats on the market for children of different ages. For example, infant car seats (for babies weighing up to 20 pounds) are designed so that newborns face the back of the car.

Since a car seat can protect your child only if it’s used properly, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Also, remember these suggestions:

  • If your car seat is used, be sure it meets current safety requirements outlined by NHTSA. To obtain a copy of these requirements, visit the NHTSA Web site at or call 1-888-327-4236.
  • Make sure the car seat is secure. It should not move more than 1 inch in any direction. To secure the seat, kneel inside it while you strap it into the car and use a tether strap to secure the child’s car seat to the vehicle seat.
  • Make sure harness straps are in the correct slots. They should be tight enough that an adult can fit only one finger under the strap by your baby’s collarbone.
  • Use the harness clip, and use it correctly. The top of the clip should be level with the child’s armpits.
  • Babies must ride facing backwards until they reach their first birthday and weigh 20 pounds.*
  • Don’t use a car seat after it’s been in an accident. Buy or borrow a new one.
  • Never hold your baby in your arms as a substitute for a car seat.
  • Never use a lightweight plastic baby lounger or baby carrier as a substitute for a car seat.

If you’re unsure about the safety of your car seat, have it inspected by a trained professional.

* The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children remain rear-facing in their car seats until they are at least 2 years old and/or until they reach the maximum weight limit for their seat to be rear-facing. Pennsylvania law states the minimum time rear-facing is 1-year-old and at least 20 pounds, but rear-facing is the safest way for younger children to travel.