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Car-seat safety tips A child car seat should be high on your to-buy list

Illustration of the installation of the LATCH car seat.
A TIGHT FIT When installing a LATCH car seat, attach the lower anchor (A) and the tether (B). A secure car seat should not be able to move more than 1 inch forward or sideways.
Premature babies and other very small newborns may require a car bed if there's concern that a car seat may not provide a secure fit or that it may exacerbate breathing problems. Preemies' travel should be kept to a minimum during the first months of life.

The safest place for a child in a car seat is in your vehicle's center-rear seat--never upfront near an air bag. A child should ride in a rear-facing car seat until reaching the maximum weight/height limits or other limits stated by the seat's manufacturer. (Typical weight limits for rear-facing use of convertible seats is 30 pounds.) Never switch the child's seat to a front-facing orientation for a child less than 1 year old and not over 22 pounds. For rear-facing use, recline the seat to achieve an optimum 45-degree angle.

Harness straps in a rear-facing car seat should be at or slightly below the infant's shoulders. For front-facing toddlers, harness straps should be at or slightly above the toddler's shoulders. If a harness is properly snug, you should not be able to insert more than one of your fingers behind it.

Officer Jason Caravaglia inspecting the car seat of Tracey Baylin and her son, Samuel.
SAFE AND SOUND Check for a car-seat inspection site near you at www.seatcheck.org or www.nhtsa.gov .
Children over 40 pounds should use a booster seat or similarly appropriate restraint until they can sit in a vehicle's rear seat with their knees bent comfortably over the edge, with the vehicle shoulder belt crossing midchest and the lap belt snug across the top of their thighs. They should never ride unbelted. Some seats can be used with their internal harness for children up to 65 pounds.

When possible, buy new. Try out the car seat in your car; return it to the seller if it's difficult to install or use.

Don't accept a hand-me-down with an unknown history or one that is more than six years old. If you must have a used seat, avoid recalled models by checking www.recalls.gov .

Return the registration card so you can be notified of a recall.

NHTSA recently issued new advice: Parents can be confident that a child car seat will continue to do its job after a minor crash. The agency defines a minor crash as one that causes no visible car-seat cracks or deformities; injures no one in the car; results in no damage to the door or doors nearest the car seat; and does not trigger the air bags.

After a minor crash, keep your child strapped in the seat as you drive away from the scene. Before the next trip, contact a trained car-seat inspector--go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov or www.seatcheck.org --but keep in mind that inspections aren't infallible.

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