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The ABC’s of Car Seat Safety

By Emily Henricksen

Car seats and using them properly are just as important as your auto insurance policy.  According to SafeKids.org:

  • Road injuries are the leading cause of preventable deaths and injuries to children in the United States.
  • Correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent.
  • More than half of car seats are not used or installed correctly. 

There are a lot of terms and rules that come along with using your car seats (at every stage) correctly.  So BCB’s Resident Expert and Child Passenger Safety Technician, Jessica Choi, has broken it all down for you.  Check out this list and JOIN US with Jessica Choi, CPST, on Thursday, March 18 at 7:30pm CT for our FREE WEBINAR Car Seat Safety + Installation. Make sure to  REGISTER HERE to join us to take a deep dive into all things car seat usage safety.

 by Jessica Choi, CPST Lurie Children’s Hospital, University of Chicago Hospitals, and La Rabida Children’s Hospital; member of Safe Kids Chicago at Lurie Children’s Hospital

The ABC’s of Car Seat Safety


After market products haven’t been crash tested and shouldn’t be used with your car seat, unless they were made and approved by your car seat manufacturer.  Don’t place anything underneath or behind your child while they’re in their car seat.  Putting additional padding behind baby’s head can place the neck in a dangerous position and make it tough to breathe. Using mats that haven’t been crash tested with your seat could change how it performs in a crash.


Reduces the rebound of a car seat in a crash.  (On this Britax model, it is the bar coming out of the front of the seat.)


This is the part of the Infant Car Seat that you install directly into your car.  Always be sure to read your manufacturer’s manual for proper installation and safety standards. Note, a base is usually not needed, but is a convenience product. Almost all infant seats can be used in the car without a base. *Nuna Pipa Lite is a seat that requires a base. 

Photo from Safekids.org.


The belt path is the path on your car seat where the seat belt or lower anchor belt goes for installation.  Your car seat might have more than one belt path.  If you have a convertible car seat, there will be a rear facing belt path (under baby’s rear) and a forward facing belt path (behind baby’s back).  If you have an infant car seat, most will have a belt path on the bucket, or seat, to install it without the base.  The base will have its own belt path.


This is the part of the of the Infant Car Seat that you can take in and out of the car!  It snaps into the base that permanently stays in your car.  The bucket is an ease of use product for on the go.   (This is the “bucket” of the Nuna Pipa Infant Car Seat.) 


Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians have been trained with a standardized national curriculum to be able to help you with your child’s car seat. Look one up near you to check your child’s car seat installation.

Photo from Safekids.org


The chest clip should be placed at armpit level after you’ve finished tightening the harness.



  From birth to toddler, this seat can go from rear facing to forward facing and has a higher weight limit.  Most convertible seats have rear facing weight ranges between 5 and 40 lbs, but some go all the way to 50 lbs rear facing or even start at 4 lbs minimum. The maximum forward facing weight limit ranges from 40 lbs to 65 lbs on most convertible seats. Height ranges vary, but rear facing kids need to have at least 1 inch between the top of their head and the top of the seat. 


The harness is the webbing that holds your child in their car seat.  It should be snug as a hug (make sure it passes the pinch test).  If a harness isn’t snug enough to start, the stretching of the webbing during a crash could make it loose enough that baby’s shoulders pop out and allow excessive movement of the head and torso.  Rear facing babies should use the harness slots at or below their shoulders, and forward facing babies should use the reinforced harness slots at or above their shoulder level.


An infant car seat is a convenient seat for babies who are within the height and weight limits.  Most infant seats have a starting weight of 4 lbs, and a maximum weight ranging from 22 lbs to 35 lbs, depending on the seat.  Maximum height is usually 32 inches or less..  Rear facing only. (This model shown here is the UPPAbaby Mesa.) 


Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.  This is one way to safely install your car seats.  Your car is equipped with the proper anchor points to install.  Anchors are found deep within the car’s back seats in the side positions.  For big kids in forward facing seats, there’s also a tether strap on the back of their seat that attaches to another anchor point in your vehicle.   (The silver piece sticking out is the LATCH anchor in your car.) 


This part on some car seats reduces initial downward rotation of a rear facing car seat, which limits the force applied to baby’s head/neck during a collision.  (This model with the load leg is the Nuna Pipa.)

Photo from Safekids.org.


A lock off is a part of the car seat that locks the seat belt.  Don’t worry if your car seat doesn’t have one; some don’t.  You can also lock the seat belt by pulling it slowly all the way out.  Or if you choose to install your seat with lower anchors instead of the seat belt, you don’t need to worry about locking anything.


The pinch test is how we check to make sure your child’s harness is snug enough.  After buckling your child’s harness, pull the tightening strap until the harness looks snug.  Then try to pinch some webbing vertically, right at the front of baby’s shoulders, above the chest clip.  If you can pinch any excess webbing, the harness isn’t quite snug enough.  Tighten the strap a little more until your fingers slip right off the webbing when you try to pinch it between your fingers. The harness shouldn’t be tight enough to cause injury (bleeding or bruising) and shouldn’t be contorting baby’s body into an unnatural position.


this is another way to safely install your car seat. Many parents think LATCH is required for a secure installation, but using the seat belt is just as safe, and in some instances might be the best or only option.  

Photo from csftl.org.


The top tether is the strap that hangs behind your child’s convertible or combination car seat.  Make sure to use it in addition to the seat belt or lower anchors when your child’s car seat is installed forward facing. It hooks onto an anchor point in your vehicle, usually behind the headrest or on the back of the vehicle seat. This will limit how far forward your child’s head moves in a crash.

The conversation never stops at Bump Club and Beyond!  JOIN US with Jessica Choi, CPST, on Thursday, March 18 at 7:30pm CT for our FREE WEBINAR Car Seat Safety + Installation. Make sure to  REGISTER HERE to join us to take a deep dive into all things car seat usage safety. Make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Instagram for more tips, tricks, safety info, our favorite products and so much more!




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