7 Features the Safest Car Seats Have

Patti Podnar
July 6, 2015

Hint: It's the features that make it easy for you to use the seat correctly every single time.

With so many car seat options on the market, most parents just want to cut through the clutter and get down to what the safest car seats have in common.

All new car seats sold in the U.S. must meet federal safety standards. From that point, the safest car seats are the ones that you'll use consistently and correctly. Susan A. Helms, a registered nurse, nationally certified child passenger safety inspector instructor and the director of injury prevention at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, says, "I recommend that parents check National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ease-of-use rating that focuses on features of child safety seats and booster seats that can help the caregiver 'decide before they buy.'" With that in mind, here are seven features to consider:

  1. An Easily Adjustable Harness
    A harness that's too tight could hurt your baby, but one that's too loose won't offer enough protection. Amy Artuso, a program manager for the National Safety Council, says, "You can test the fit by doing a 'pinch test' at your baby's shoulders. You don't want the straps to dig into the shoulders, but neither should you be able to pinch any slack." Try the Britax Advocate ClickTight Car Seat for easily adjustable straps.
  2. Wide Straps
    Twisted straps have driven many new parents to distraction. Not only are they hard to maneuver and uncomfortable, they lessen the harness's effectiveness. Wider straps are less likely to twist, like those on the Britax Marathon Car Seat.
  3. Narrow Base Width
    This feature becomes important when you have more than one child, especially if you need to fit three car seats in a row. The seats need enough room for the base to lie flat on the seat of the car, and a narrow base helps with that. For an example of a car seat with a narrow base, see the Chicco Key Fit 30.
  4. Comfortable As-Is
    While it may seem like a great idea to add a blanket or cushion to make your baby more comfortable, it's strongly discouraged. As Artuso points out, crash tests are conducted using the seat the way it's manufactured. There's no guarantee that the seat will work as designed when you put a blanket or cushion under your baby. For an example of a comfortable car seat, see the Recaro ProRIDE Convertible Car Seat.
  5. A Design That Works With Your Vehicle
    Many parents are shocked to learn that not all car seats fit all vehicles. Artuso recommends that, sometime around the seventh month of pregnancy, parents take the family car(s) -- with the car seat installed -- to a certified inspector. Many police departments offer this service, and the hospital where you'll deliver might offer it, too. A certified inspector can make sure not only that the car seat fits the way it's supposed to, but that you've installed it correctly. To learn more about what car seats fit best in different vehicles, check out Consumer Reports' reviews.
  6. Ease of Installation
    Unless you buy a car seat for every car the baby will be riding in -- both parents' and grandparents' vehicles -- you'll be moving it a lot. Things like built-in locking clips and easily accessible belt routing and tether adjustment can make a world of difference in time, convenience and safety. For an example of an easy-to-install seat, check out the Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat.
  7. High Weight Limit
    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it's safest for babies to stay in a rear-facing seat as long as possible. The higher the weight limit of the car seat, the longer you'll be able to use it in the rear-facing position. You should be able to find the weight limit on seat's label. The Diono Radian R100 Convertible Car Seat can be used in the rear-facing position until your child weighs 40 pounds.

Trying to identify the safest infant car seats can be stressful. After all, it's one of the most important purchases you'll make for your baby. But as long as your seat meets federal standards, and you use it correctly and consistently, you're doing everything you can to ensure your baby's safety on the road.

And read How to Properly Install a Child Safety Seat.

Patti Podnar is a freelance writer focusing primarily on topics surrounding family, career, and business. However, she strongly believes that a professional writer can tackle any topic.

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