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Car crashes are a leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 14 and under. Children are smaller and built differently than adults. So, they are more likely to hit harder, lower areas inside of the car during an accident. Young children, in particular, need the extra protection of a child safety seat.

In 1985, New York State passed a mandatory seat belt law. All children under the age of four, no matter what their weight, must ride in a federally approved child safety seat.

There are many different brands and kinds of child safety seats. They range in cost from $40 to $210. (If you can’t afford a child safety seat, contact your local Department of Health. It can tell you who distributes child safety seats at little or no cost.) To choose the one best for you, consider that it:

Depending on the age of the child, safety seats are in one of three categories: infant seats, convertible seats, or booster seats (see below). For any child safety seat, however, remember to:

Infant Seats

Infant seats are for babies weighing from five to 22 pounds. These seats always face the rear of the car. The infant should be semi-reclined at 45 degrees from level. The harness straps should be in the slots at or below the baby’s shoulders.

Infants should stay in rear-facing seats until they weigh 20 pounds and are one year of age. If a baby weighs between 20 and 30 pounds, but is less than a year old, switch to a rear-facing convertible seat. If the infant weighs under five pounds, there are special "car beds" to use.

Convertible Seats

Convertible child safety seats are for infants and children weighing up to 40 pounds.

Convertible child safety seats come with different types of harnesses. Generally, the 5-point harness system is best as it provides a snug fit. Harness straps should be at or below the baby’s shoulders. When children weigh more than the seat can support or their shoulders are above the top harness slots, it is time to switch to a booster seat.

Booster Seats

Booster seats are for children, between 40 to 80 pounds, who no longer fit in their convertible child safety seats. In a booster seat, children sit higher. This makes the lap belt fit low over their hips and upper thighs. The shoulder belt is snug over their shoulders. There are two types of booster seats: shield and belt positioning. All booster seats are made to face forward.

When a child reaches the weight or height limits of the booster seat, or when the middle of the child’s ears are above the back of the car seat, it is time to use a seat belt only. In New York State, anyone in the front seat, no matter what age, must use a safety belt. As of November 2000, anyone under the age of sixteen in the back seat must also use a safety belt.

Several agencies urge that children under the age of 12 or anyone shorter than five feet sit buckled in the back seat if airbags are in the front seat of a car. An airbag that goes off can hurt someone who is small or frail.

Lastly, children will adopt the safety habits of the people around them. Adults should set a good example by always using their safety belts.

Information courtesy of Albany County Department of Public Work, Traffic Safety Education Programs and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.