At Motherhood HQ, we prioritize baby safety gear, and one of the most crucial products we discuss is the baby car seat. This includes infant car seats, booster seats, and convertible car seats. While car seats were introduced in the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1985 that all states implemented laws requiring children to ride in a car seat. Read more about the history of car seats here.
Despite this requirement making it mandatory for parents to use car seats, it is estimated that 50% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly, putting children at risk. To combat this issue and ensure your little one’s safety, here are ten essential safety features you should consider when purchasing a baby car seat.
Five-Point Harness System:
This system includes two shoulder straps, two hip straps, and one crotch strap, securing your child in the car seat. It distributes crash forces across the strongest parts of a child’s body and reduces the risk of ejection from the seat.
The history of the 5-point harness dates back to the very invention of car seats. In 1962, Jean Ames, a British journalist and mother, designed a rear-facing child seat that incorporated a three-point Y-belt for restraint. Just three years later, she obtained a patent for a five-strap harness with a quick-release pin and subsequently licensed it to the D.C. Morley Engineering company. This innovation revolutionized child safety in vehicles and has since become a standard feature in modern car seats.
The science behind the 5-point harness system is simple – it keeps a child’s body securely strapped in at five points, reducing the risk of injury during a collision. To ensure maximum safety and comfort, make sure to adjust the straps according to your child’s height and weight.
Compared to a 3- or 4-point harness system, the 5-point harness is considered to be the safest option. So when considering a car seat for your little one, always opt for one with a five-point harness system. The key distinction between a 3-point and 5-point harness lies in their purpose of securing the child in the seat. While both serve this function, a 5-point harness goes the extra mile by incorporating additional hip straps. These straps play a crucial role in distributing the impact of a collision, a critical consideration when the child is facing forward. By evenly dispersing the forces, the harness effectively safeguards the child’s torso.
Nowadays brands are developing 5-point harness car seats for older babies weighing 80 to 120 pounds or older than 5 years and these are not booster seats. The key difference between booster seats and 5-point harness seats is that the latter has a crotch strap, offering better protection against abdominal injuries and submarining.
A 5-point harness is a secure restraint that prevents a child from moving out of position. In contrast, a booster seat allows your child to lean sideways, slouch, bother their sister, pick up a toy from the floor, and so on as explained here. The decision to transition from a harness to a booster seat is based on the child’s maturity. Most children develop the ability to consistently sit correctly throughout the entire ride around the age of 5, while for others, this milestone may not be reached until they are 6 or 7 years old. A harness should be used until a child is able to sit properly in a booster seat without assistance.
When shopping for a car seat, always check the maximum weight and height limits for the 5-point harness system. Some seats may have lower weight limitations compared to others, so make sure to choose one that accommodates your child’s growth potential. Additionally, it is important to regularly check the manual and make sure that your child is still within the height and weight limits for using the 5-point harness.
In summary, when it comes to safety features in a baby car seat, the 5-point harness system is definitely one to consider. Its secure restraint helps prevent injuries and keeps your child in proper position during car rides. Remember to check weight and height limits, and to transition to a booster seat when your child is developmentally ready. The safety of your child should always be a top priority, so choose wisely and stay informed about the latest advancements in car seat technology. So, it is important to understand what other safety features you should consider when purchasing a baby car seat. Read more about infant car seat safety ratings here.
Side Impact Protection
Side impacts, as stated by BeSafe, rank as the second most common cause of severe injuries sustained by children during car accidents. Designed to absorb energy, the additional side impact protection system effectively reduces the strain on a child’s neck and head by up to 20% in the event of a collision from the side.
Pick a car seat brand with side-impact protection that would help absorb the impact of a crash and protect your child from harm. Look for seats that have energy-absorbing foam or extended wings on the sides of the seat to provide extra cushioning during a side-impact collision. You can find car seat crash tests here.
Additional testing to prove that the padding on the sides of the car seats provides additional protection was done in 2016 by ADAC on 28 car seats and those with the side-impact protection were clear winners.
Watch the video below which shows the side-impact protection at work during a side collision;
Renowned brands like UPPAbaby have innovated with the creation of the UPPAbaby Infant Snugseat, a detachable insert that offers enhanced comfort and stability for your baby’s neck and back during strolls.
If you pick a car seat without side protection, get generic head and neck protection products on Amazon that go for less than $20. The Inchant Adjustable Baby Soft Head Neck Support has decent reviews and is very comfortable and secure.
An anti-rebound bar is a safety feature that helps prevent the car seat from rotating too much in the event of a crash. It attaches to the bottom of the car seat and connects to the vehicle, limiting the movement of the seat and reducing the risk of injury. This is especially important for rear-facing seats, as they are more susceptible to rebound during a collision.
Britax, Chicco, Graco and Evenflo brands are among the renowned brands that offer anti-rebound bars as part of their car seat design.
Check out Britax’s anti-rebound bar technology during crash test;
Britax claims that their anti-rebound bars help reduce the rebound rotation by up to 40% helping to stabilize your child’s car seat during a crash. The bar allows the child’s seat to absorb back the rebound energy of the crash while also limiting the movement.
While more brands are now designing infant car seats with anti-rebound bar, this technology was invented back in 1996 as per the filing at the Patents Office here. Just this month (Nov 7, 2023) Britax got another patent to improve the anti-rebound technology with a tensioning mechanism that selectively applies tension to a seat belt to secure the child seat to a car seat. Read more here.
As a parent, you need to be researching the evolving technologies of car seats to find out which ones keep your child(ren) safe. This safety feature is one that I believe will be standard in all car seat designs eventually.
Energy-absorbing foam is a critical safety feature that helps distribute the force of impact away from your baby’s body in case of an accident. It acts as a cushion and absorbs energy, reducing the risk of injury to your child’s fragile head, neck and spine. This type of foam is usually found in the head and torso areas of a car seat, as these are the most vulnerable areas in a crash.
Manufacturers conduct a dedicated crash test for foam to assess the strength of expanded polypropylene (EPP) or expanded polystyrene, commonly known as styrofoam (EPS). This test evaluates the force transferred to the baby mannequin during an impact, with lower numbers indicating superior foam performance.
The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system is designed to make installing a child car seat easier and more secure. It consists of anchors located in the vehicle’s backseat and tethers on the car seat that attach to these anchors. The LATCH system helps keep the car seat securely in place, reducing the risk of it moving during an accident.
However, it’s important to note that not all LATCH systems are created equal. Some may only support a maximum weight limit of 40 pounds, while others can support up to 65 pounds. It’s essential to check your car seat’s manual and ensure that you’re using the correct LATCH system for your child’s weight.
Compared to ISOFIX or European-style connectors, the LATCH system may be a bit more complicated to use. It’s crucial to follow the installation instructions carefully and make sure that all connections are properly secured.
Check out the video below with instructions on how to safely use LATCH:
Another safety feature to consider in a baby car seat is adjustable recline. This feature allows parents to adjust the angle of the car seat, ensuring that it’s at the optimal position for their child’s age and size. The correct recline position can help keep your baby safe and comfortable during long car rides.
Newborns should have a more reclined position, while older children may be more comfortable in a slightly upright position. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and adjust the recline as your child grows.
Some car seats have multiple recline positions, while others may only have one or two options. When choosing a car seat with adjustable recline, make sure it can accommodate your child’s needs for an extended period.
While almost similar to anti-rebound bar, a load leg is an extra safety feature that can be found in some car seats. It’s a support post that extends from the base of the car seat to the floor of your vehicle, providing added stability during an accident.
The load leg helps absorb and distribute impact forces, reducing the risk of injury to your child’s head, neck, and spine. It also reduces rotation and movement of the car seat during a crash, keeping your child secure in their seat.
Not all car seats have a load leg feature, so make sure to check when purchasing a new one. It’s an added layer of protection that can give parents peace of mind while driving with their little ones.
In case of an accident, the load leg helps prevent rotation and forward movement of the car seat, reducing the risk of injury to your child. It also helps keep them in a safe position, preventing possible injuries from loose or flying objects inside the vehicle.
The chest clip is often overlooked but plays a crucial role in keeping your child safe. It’s a small plastic clip that joins the two shoulder straps of the harness. The chest clip should sit at armpit level, keeping the harness straps in place and preventing them from slipping off your child’s shoulders.
In the event of an accident, the chest clip helps distribute the crash forces over a larger area, reducing stress on your child’s body. It also keeps the harness straps in place, ensuring your child is securely strapped into their car seat.
When using a car seat with a chest clip, make sure it is properly fastened and sitting at the correct height. Never use aftermarket chest clips as they may not have been tested for safety.
ClickTight is a unique safety feature found in some car seats that ensures proper installation every time. It uses an audible click to indicate when the car seat is securely installed in the vehicle. This eliminates any guesswork for parents and provides peace of mind knowing that their child’s car seat is properly installed.
Improper installation is one of the leading causes of injuries in car accidents. ClickTight helps prevent this by making installation foolproof, reducing the risk of human error.
To use ClickTight, simply open the seat’s bottom panel, thread the vehicle’s seat belt through the designated slots, and click it shut. If you hear the audible click, then you know that your car seat is securely installed. Read more about this technology on Britax’s website here.
Rollsafe is a safety feature that focuses on preventing head injuries in car accidents. It utilizes energy-absorbing materials and design elements to protect your child’s head from impact during a crash.
The top of a child’s head is one of the most vulnerable areas in a car accident, especially for infants whose neck muscles are still developing. Rollsafe works by creating a protective cocoon around the child’s head, reducing the risk of head injuries.
Some car seats such as Graco have Rollsafe technology incorporated into the seat’s shell, while others may have a separate removable insert. Either way, this feature provides an extra layer of protection for your child in case of a crash.
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Sandra W. Bullock is a grand-mom to two boys and is part of the review board here at Motherhoodhq.com. She is responsible for the quality control of content and is among our most experienced moms. She has over 20 years of writing parenting content online focussing on baby safety indoors and outdoors. She has written widely on babyproofing nurseries and homes for infants and toddlers and published work on privacy and the safety of baby monitors. She is a renowned advocate for non-wifi baby monitors that cannot be hacked and spends a lot of time educating parents on how to secure their homes – including ways to secure the baby from harm in and around homes. Sandra is a native of Atlanta where she also works. She can be reached using her email, Sandra.w(at)motherhoodhq.com