A child will cycle through several car seats as he or she grows. Parents should use a backward-facing car seat for newborns, which can be used until the baby weighs 20 pounds.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have updated car seat safety guidelines and now recommend that toddlers ride in rear-facing car seats until the age of 2. This is one year longer than the original guideline, and is based on United States crash data collected in the last five years. Data has shown that 1-year-olds are five-times less likely to be injured in a car crash if they are in a rear-facing car seat. Children younger than 2 have relatively large heads and small necks, and front-facing car seats allow the force of a crash to jerk the child's head, potentially causing spinal cord injuries.
Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears demonstrates which car seats to use at what age. If a child is younger than 2 and weighs less than 22 pounds, keep him or her in a rear-facing car seat. On your child's second birthday, or when he or she reaches more than 22 pounds, he or she may ride in a front-facing car seat. Dr. Sears recommends buying a convertible seat that can be turned around once your child reaches the correct age and weight. All children must ride in a booster seat until they are 4-feet, 9-inches tall, which ranges from 8 to 12 years old. If a child is too short to ride without a car seat, he or she is likely to slouch, resting the seat belt over the belly, which could crush the child's organs in an accident. Children under the age of 13 should not sit in the front seat.