Traveling Safely With Children: The Basics Traveling Safely With Children: The Basics
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Everybody needs a child safety seat, booster seat, or safety belt!

There must be one safety belt for each person. Buckling two people, even children, into one belt could injure both.

People who are not buckled up can be thrown from the car or around inside the car, and seriously hurt themselves or others.

Never hold a child on your lap! You could crush him/her in a crash, or the child may be torn from your arms.

Never ride in the cargo area of a station wagon, van, or pickup! Anyone riding in the cargo area could be thrown out and severely injured or killed.

No one seat is ‘best’, The ‘best’ child safety seat is the one that fits your child and can be installed correctly.

Children age 12 and under should ride properly restrained in back.

New child safety seats and booster seats come with registration cards. Be sure to register your new seat so you will be notified if there is a recall. If you don’t have a card, call the safety seat manufacturer.

AGE: Birth to 1 year
WEIGHT: Up to 35 pounds
TYPE OF SEAT: Infant-only (A) or Rear-facing Convertible (B)
DIRECTION TO FACE: Infants should ride rear-facing to at least 1 year of age AND at least 20 pounds, longer if possible. The seat should be at a 30-45 degree angle to keep the child’s head from falling forward. Do not tip it too far back or the child could come out of the seat in a crash.

NOTE: Infants who outgrow a smaller infant-only seat before 1 year of age should ride rear-facing in a child safety seat with a higher rear-facing weight limit (over 22 pounds).

AGE: Over 1 year to 4 years old
WEIGHT: Over 20 pounds, up to 40 pounds
TYPE OF SEAT: Convertible or Forward-Facing Only seat
DIRECTION TO FACE: A child over 1 year of age AND over 20 pounds may ride facing forward. Use the upright position or the position recommended by the manufacturer.

NOTE: Keep the child in a child safety seat with a full harness as long as possible, preferably until 4 years old. For children 40 pounds or more who are too young or too active to sit still in a booster seat, or if a vehicle has only lap belts, look for child restraints with harnesses labeled for use over 40 pounds.

AGE: 4 to 8 years old
WEIGHT: Over 40 pounds
TYPE OF SEAT: Belt-positioning Booster Seat, backless (D) or high-back (C)
NOTE: All children who have outgrown child safety seats should be properly restrained in booster seats until they are at least 8 years old, unless they are 4′ 9″ tall.

WARNING: The back seat is the safest place in a crash. Children age 12 and under should ride properly restrained in back. Infants riding rear-facing must NEVER be placed in front of an airbag.


Each child safety seat needs a safety belt or LATCH to hold it in place. LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is a system designed to make safety seat installation easier.

Check the safety seat instructions and the vehicle owner’s manual for tips on using the safety belts or LATCH to install a safety seat (E).

If using safety belts, put the vehicle safety belt through the correct belt path on the child safety seat (see F below). Check the child safety seat instructions or look for labels on the seat that mark the safety belt path. Use the correct belt path for the direction the safety seat is facing.

The child safety seat must stay tight at all times. Check for tight fit by holding the seat at the belt path and by pulling the seat side to side and forward. The child safety seat should not move more than one inch sideways or toward the front of the vehicle.

The harness straps must fit on strong parts of the body: the shoulders and hips.

Use the correct slots for the harness (F). Using the wrong slots can cause serious injury. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct placement of the harness straps.

Keep straps on the child’s shoulders, not arms. Keep straps flat on the child’s shoulders and snug enough to keep the child from moving forward.

Place the harness retainer clip at armpit level (F).


Until age 8, most children have not developed strong hipbones, and their legs and body are too short to allow for proper fit of a safety belt. Safety belts are designed for adults.

To be able to fit in a safety belt, a child must:

Be tall enough to sit without slouching,

Keep his/her back against the vehicle seat back,

Keep his/her knees completely bent over the edge of the seat,

Keep his/her feet flat on the floor, and

Be able to stay comfortably seated this way.

The lap belt must fit low and tight across the upper thighs. The shoulder belt should rest over the center of the shoulder and across the chest (G).

Never put the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind the child’s back. This can cause severe internal injuries in a crash. If the safety belt does not fit properly the child should use a belt-positioning booster seat.

Always check belt fit on the child in every vehicle. A belt-positioning booster seat may be needed in some vehicles and not in others.
ALWAYS read and follow the child safety seat instructions and the vehicle owner’s manual!

For more information, contact the DOT Auto Safety Hotline at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT
(1-888-327-4236) or