Forward-Facing Child Safety Seat

All children 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 years who have outgrown the weight and height limits of the rear-facing safety seat, should ride in a forward-facing safety seat with a harness. Forward-facing safety seats should be placed in the rear seat. At a minimum, a child will need a forward-facing safety seat until the age of 4 years. Signs that a child has outgrown the forward-facing safety seat include:

  • Being over the weight and height limits of the seat.

  • Having shoulders above the top harness slots.

  • Having ears at or above the top of the seat.

There are several kinds of safety seats that can be used in a forward-facing position:

  • Convertible seats: Depending on the model, convertible seats can be used up to 40 lb (18.1 kg).

  • Forward-facing toddler seats used with a harness: Depending on the model, forward-facing toddler seats used with a harness can be used with children until the weight of 40 to 80 lb (18.1 to 36.3 kg).

  • Combination forward-facing booster seats: Depending on the model, combination forward-facing booster seats can be used with a harness for children weighing up to 40 to 90 lb (18.1 to 40.8 kg) or, without a harness, as a booster seat for children weighing up to 80 to 120 lb (36.3 to 54.4 kg).

  • Built-in forward-facing seats: Built-in forward-facing seats are available on some vehicles. Weight and height limits vary. Check the vehicle owner's manual or contact the manufacturer for information about use of these seats.

  • Travel vests: Travel vests can be worn by children who weigh between 20 and 168 lb (9.1 to 76.2 kg). Travel vests are useful in a vehicle with lap-only rear seat belts or for children whose weight has exceeded safety seat limits. Travel vests may require the use of a top tether.


  • Air bags can cause serious head and neck injury or death in children, especially in rear-facing safety seats or in children who are not properly restrained. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the rear seat of a vehicle. The center of the rear seat is the safest position. In vans, the safest position is the middle seat rather than the rear seat. If a vehicle does not have a rear seat and it is absolutely necessary for a child under the age of 13 years to ride in the front seat:

  • If an airbag is present on the passenger side where the child will be seated, it must be deactivated manually or automatically. If this is not an option, consider alternate transportation.

  • Rear-facing car seats can never be used in the front seat where an airbag is present.

  • Use a forward-facing safety seat with a harness.

  • Move the safety seat back from the dashboard (and the air bag) as far as you can.

  • The child safety seat should be installed and used as directed in the child safety seat instructions and vehicle owner's manual.

  • A forward-facing safety seat should be flat against the vehicle seat's bottom and back. Use either method to position the safety seat flat against the vehicle seat's bottom and back:

  • The safety seat should be in the upright position rather than the reclined position whenever possible.

  • Locking clips should be used as directed in the child safety seat instructions and vehicle owner's manual.

  • The proper vehicle belt path that is required for your forward-facing safety seat must be used. Vehicles made after 2002 may have a Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system for securing safety seats. Vehicles with LATCH will have anchors, in addition to seat belts, in the rear seat, which can be used to secure safety seats.

  • The harness must be at or above the child's shoulders in the reinforced slots. Many convertible seats require that the top slots be used when they are in a forward-facing position.

  • The safety seat harness should fit the child snugly. The pinch test is 1 method to check the harness for a correct fit. To perform a pinch test:

  1. Grab the harness at the shoulder level.

  2. Try to pinch the harness together from top to bottom.

The harness fits correctly if you cannot pinch a vertical fold on the harness. The harness will need to be readjusted with any change in the thickness of your child's clothing.

  • Nothing should be added under, behind, or between the child and the harness unless it has been specifically designed by the manufacturer to be used in this manner with the car seat.

  • Tethers should be used as directed in your safety seat instructions.

  • The safety seat must be installed tightly in the vehicle. After installing the safety seat, you should check for correct installation by pulling the safety seat firmly from side to side and from the back of the vehicle to the front of the vehicle. A correctly installed safety seat should not move more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) forward, backward, or sideways. A forward-facing safety seat without a tether may have a small amount of movement at the top of the safety seat.

These guidelines are based on those created by the American Academy of Pediatrics concerning child vehicle safety. Laws and regulations regarding child auto safety vary from state to state.

Safety seat recommendations:

  • Replace a safety seat following a moderate or severe crash.

  • Never use a safety seat that is damaged.

  • Never use a safety seat over 5 years old.

  • Never use a safety seat with an unknown history.