Buckle up! Car seat guidelines

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Buckle up!

Car seat guidelines and laws are confusing. Vehicle and car seat technology can be even more so.

Here is a quick summary of some of the most important-yet not always well-understood-recommendations on child passenger safety:

Oregon law states that kids need to be rear-facing until age two. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however,  recommends keeping children rear-facing as long as possible, so long as they fit in the weight and height requirements of the seats. Most convertible car seats-seats that can rear or forward-face-will accommodate kids rear-facing until they weigh 40 pounds.

The next big-and often confusing-step is transitioning kids from a five-point harness, forward-facing car seat into a booster seat. This can happen after age four as long as they are over 40 pounds. I always advocate that parents keep their kids in a car seat as long as they fit, because a five-point harness is much safer than a three-point seatbelt in a belt-positioning booster seat.

The final step in the car seat transition is moving from a booster seat to a seat belt only. This may happen when a child is anywhere between eight and 12 years of age; they should be about 4' 9" before this transition occurs. They should be able to pass several tests before they use the seat without the booster:

The child needs to be able to sit up straight with knees hanging comfortably over the edge of the seat, feet on the ground, and with the seat belt in the correct position with the shoulder belt over the middle of the chest-not near the neck.

The lap belt should be over the upper thighs and hips, not the abdomen.

If your child is not ready, stay with the  booster. Passing these tests can keep your child  much safer in the event of a collision. Finally, kids should stay in the back seat until they are 13.

Motor vehicle collisions are the No. 1 cause of death and significant injury in kids under the age of 19. There's a lot we can do to protect our kids so they are safe while riding in a car. Following car seat and seat belt laws and guidelines really does save lives!

Angela Zallen, MD is a pediatric hospitalist and a certified child passenger safety technician. She's also the co-chair of SafeKids West Oregon. She lives in Eugene with her husband, a pediatric surgeon, and their two children, two dogs and 10 chickens.

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