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The Most Important Thing Every Parent Needs to Know About Car Seat Safety

ProPublica has published a report on how one booster seat maker put children at risk. For parents, here’s some of the most pressing information our reporters discovered during their investigation.

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Of all the important takeaways from ProPublica’s new report on how a company knew its bestselling booster seats left children vulnerable to severe injury or death in side impact crashes, there’s one piece of advice that stood out to reporters Daniela Porat and Patricia Callahan.

Don’t move your child from a car seat to a booster seat until they have outgrown their harnessed car seat.

Early transitions from car seats to booster seats decrease your child’s safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents delay transitions as long as possible because each transition comes with some decrease in safety.

Haisam Hussein for ProPublica


  • Don’t move your child to a booster seat early. Children should stay in each seat until they outgrow the maximum height or weight limits of that seat. Just because your child can move from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat or from a forward-facing harness seat to a booster doesn’t mean they should.

  • Check the label. Many forward-facing seats with an internal harness can fit a child weighing up to 65 pounds, and some even fit children who weigh up to 85 pounds.

Always Use the Tether

If your child is in a forward-facing seat with an internal harness, make sure you’re using the seat’s tether. The tether is a strap connected to the seat that attaches the car seat to tether anchors built into the car, preventing the harnessed seat from tipping in a crash. Without it, children can move farther forward or to the side in a crash, putting them at risk of brain and spinal injuries — or death.

What to know:

  • Check your car manual. The location of the tether anchors varies by vehicle.

  • Follow the instructions in the harnessed seat manual for how to attach the seat’s tether to the tether anchors.

When Your Child is Transitioning to a Booster Seat...

Booster seats are designed to lift the child up so that seat belts for adults fit the child. They are needed until the adult seat belt properly fits the child, which is typically the case when a child is about 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

What to know:

  • The shoulder belt should go across the middle of your child’s shoulder and be off the neck, and the lap belt should be low and tight across the child’s upper thighs.

  • Your child must be mature enough to sit up straight and not wriggle around. An out of position child is an unprotected child and can be ejected from the seat during a crash.

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Portrait of Daniela Porat

Daniela Porat

Daniela Porat is a reporting fellow at ProPublica.

Portrait of Patricia Callahan

Patricia Callahan

Patricia Callahan is a reporter covering business.

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