Rules for child car safety seats have changed a lot over the past 20 years as more has been discovered about the best ways to protect children. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when choosing a car seat is that child safety seats only work if they are suited to the child's specific age and size.
Rear-Facing Car Seats
For infants, a rear-facing car seat that is installed properly in the back seat is the best way to keep a child safe. Before placing a baby into a front-facing seat, the baby must be at least 20 pounds and 1 year in age. Many seats can be used as front-facing seats once the baby has reached those milestones, and some must be replaced with seats that have a higher weight range. Always check the seat to be sure that it is large enough for your growing child.
Harness Car Seats
Toddlers need a five-point harness car seat for as long as they are able to stay in one. Once they outgrow the harness seats, they must use a booster seat. Depending on the size of the child, this may be anywhere from ages 3 to 5.
A seat belt does not fit children under 4'9" well enough to give them adequate protection. A booster seat must be used until a child is at least 4'9" in height and is at least 8 years old. Some children require one until they are 12 or 13 years of age. No matter what the child's age, a booster seat is safest until the child reaches the appropriate height.