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5-point VS. Shield
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The Basics of Forward-Facing Seats
A correct use checklist

The seat must be designed for use forward-facing and must actually face the front of the vehicle.

Be sure you check the labels and manual for the seat to find out whether the seat can be used in the forward-facing position. If the seat can face backward and forward, be sure you locate the belt path that is required for forward-facing and use it. Infant seats, those that double as carriers, can ONLY be used in the rear-facing position and should never be used forward-facing.  All forward-facing seats should have a label indicating that it meets motor vehicle safety standards.

The seat must be tightly installed in the vehicle.

After installation, grab the seat at or near where the car's seat belt threads through the car seat belt path. Give a firm tug, not a yank, from side to side, and from the back of the car towards the front.  The seat should not move more than 1 inch in either direction, and preferably as little as possible, or not at all. An untethered forward-facing seat will normally have a small amount of movement throughout the top of the seat - towards the front of the car and from side to side. This movement can be eliminated with the use of a tether, which comes standard on all forward-facing seats made after September 1, 1999.  A tether should be used whenever possible.

The seat must usually be in the upright position

Convertible seats, the kind that face backward and forward, have a reclined position and an upright position.  Check the instructions that come with your seat.  Most seats must be in the upright position when facing forward.  Combination seats generally only have one position - if a recline is offered, it can be used.  Whenever possible, the upright position should be used, as it spreads crash forces out more evenly.

The safety harness must fit the child snugly.

"As snug as a hug" is a good guideline. You don't want your child to have problems breathing, but a too loose harness could have devastating results. Many instruction manuals suggest that only one or two fingers fit under the harness at collarbone level, but this could be too loose, depending on the size of the fingers. Instead, use the pinch test: grabbing the harness at shoulder level, try to "pinch" the harness together from top to bottom. You should not be able to pinch a vertical fold on a snug harness.


The safety harness must be at or above the child's shoulders, IN THE REINFORCED SLOTS.

In a forward-facing seat, the harness will hold the child back and in the seat in a crash. The harness must be at or above the shoulders to do this properly. If the harness is below the shoulders, the shoulders can be compressed and the head can travel further forward in a crash.  Many convertible seats REQUIRE that the top slots be used when forward-facing.  This is because only the top slots are reinforced to hold the harness in the seat when forward-facing.  NEVER use the middle or bottom slots on a convertible seat when forward-facing unless your manual specifically allows this.  All harness slots are reinforced on combination seats and forward-facing-only seats, so use the set that is closest to at or above the child's shoulders.

Chest clip must be at armpit level.

The chest clip is designed to keep the harness straps properly positioned on the shoulders before a crash.  This clip is ONLY for pre-crash positioning. A chest clip that is too high may interfere with the child's ability to breathe. A chest clip that is too low could allow the straps to slip off the shoulders before a crash, leaving the child free to slip out of the seat.

The back seat is the safest place.

This doesn't just apply to rear-facing seats. Everyone would be safer in the backseat - in the middle, if possible. The back seat is safest because it is farther from any point of impact. A front seat passenger is 30% more likely to be injured or killed than a rear-seat passenger.  Use the back seat position that offers the best installation.  A good fit in an outboard position is safer than a poor fit in the middle.

*NOTE* In mini-vans, the safest position may be in the MIDDLE seat, as the rear has less "cargo space" to absorb a rear impact.

Avoid using add-on products 

Anything that did not come in the box with the seat could potentially put your child at risk. Adding strap covers could cause the chest clip to be positioned incorrectly. An added head support cushion could compress in a crash, introducing slack in the harness and allowing the child to be ejected from the seat. In general, you want nothing under the child or between the child and the straps that is any thicker than a placemat. Adding NOTHING under, behind or between the child and the straps is the best. Also, keep in mind that any product you add that is not included with the seat can release the manufacturer from being responsible for any injuries your child may suffer in their seat.

The child must fit properly in the seat  There are several conditions that must be met for a child to fit correctly in the seat.

A child is too small for the seat if:
  • The child weighs less than the seat's lower weight limit.
  • The harness can not be adjusted to snugly fit.
  • The child is still small enough to be rear-facing.
A child is too large for the seat if:
  • The child weighs more than the seat's upper weight limit.
  • The top of the child's ears are above the top of the seat.
  • The top of the shoulders are above the top harness slots.
  • Some believe that when a child is too tall for a convertible, they should move to a booster seat.  If the child is not yet 40 lbs, a combination seat should be used.

Used seats may be dangerous.
Never use seat that is damaged, under recall*, over 5-6 years old, or has an unknown history. Check out Not New? for more information on any seat that is not brand new before using it.

*Some recalls do not affect the safety of the seat, and the seat may safely be used to transport your child until the problem is fixed.  You will need to contact the manufacturer to find out whether any recalls on your seat must be fixed before using it for transporting your child.

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