Car Seat Dos and Don'ts - These may surprise you!

in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford, VA

By Jenny Sites April 21, 2022

Those who know me know that I'm very passionate about car safety for my kids. I'm the mom who researched the car seats, bought all three kids the same car seats so that anyone transporting them could learn how to just use and install one type of seat. I bought the seats with the biggest weight and height limits. Our oldest didn't ride in the front seat until he was 13 and our 10-year-old is still in a booster. So it's no surprise that I keep up to date on the car seat rules and regulations and notice when others children aren't properly secured. Originally I didn't say anything when I saw my friend's children without booster seats, with the seatbelt behind them, or riding in the front seat but I have realized that many times they didn't know their children were unsafe, so I've put together a list of things that you may not know, that may have changed, or that you may have forgotten.

  • There are lots of car seats to choose from. Start with a visit to the NHTSA website for information on different types of car seats – rear-facing, convertible, all-in-one and booster seats.


Image courtesy of NHTSA

  • Become familiar with your state’s car seat laws.  VA law states that children should be in a proper car seat through their 8th birthday. Children must “ride in rear-facing car seats through age 2 or when the child reaches the maximum weight limit for the forward-facing safety seat”.  VA state law also says children under 16 should not ride in the cargo area of a vehicle.

  • Register your car seat. If it is registered you will be notified directly about any recalls.If you no longer have the registration card, you can register and check for recalls here.

  • Install your car seat before your baby is born. Practice putting it in and taking it out before putting the baby in it.

  • Read the car seat manufacturer’s manual to determine the proper way to install it in your vehicle. Be sure to check the height/weight requirements, installation directions and the level your car seat should be while in the vehicle. (Some car seats have leveling bubbles on the side)

Image courtesy of TheCarSeatBlog

  • Read your vehicle’s manual to determine the proper way to install your car seat.Some vehicles have car seat anchors built in while others attach using the seat belt. The tether anchor is usually on the back of the vehicle in a sedan, or back of the seat in a van or SUV. However, in some vehicles, it could be located on the floor or ceiling. Check your manual to be sure you are attaching your seat to the car seat tether rather than another vehicle accessory.


Image courtesy of the NHTSA

  • Use the tether with the seat belt or anchor for forward facing, 5 point harness, car seats. The tether keeps the car seat from pitching forward during a crash. Some booster seats also have a tether. Tethers are not used for rear-facing seats.

  • Do not use both the lower anchors and the seat belt to install your car seat. You should only use one or the other.

  • Have your car seat installation checked by a certified inspector. In our area the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office (540-582-7115; Deputy Justin Young) , the Stafford Sheriff’s Office (540-658-4958; Deputy Kuibeth) and Quantico Fire Department (703-784-2851; James Thacker) have certified car seat inspectors available.   For other areas, you can find local inspectors here.

  • When using a 5 point harness, be sure the chest clip is across the chest (lined up with armpits) and not across the abdomen.

image courtesy of CDC

  • Double check your child’s strap height often. For rear-facing car seats, the straps should come through the back slots at or just below your child’s shoulders. For forward facing car seats the straps should come through just above the shoulders.

  • Be sure the harness is pulled tight. You should not be able to pinch the straps when they are correctly adjusted.

Image coutesy of CDC

  • Do not put a puffy coat on your child under the car seat straps. Place a blanket over your child or put their coat on backward on top of the straps during the car ride.

image courtesy of CDC

  • Keep your child rear-facing in the car seat as long as possible. Check the car seat manual for height and weight requirements. Many car seats are now rear-facing through age 3.

  • Do not click your car seat onto a shopping cart. The latch is not made to fit the cart and you could break or damage your car seat. It is also possible for your car seat to fall off the cart and injure your child.

  • Don’t leave your child in the car seat outside of the vehicle to nap or play. Car seats are made to sit at a certain angle in your vehicle. Setting the car seat on the floor for your child to nap could put them at the wrong angle and cut off their airway.  Setting the car seat on a couch or table could also be a fall risk.

  • Do not use a car seat that has been involved in a motor vehicle accident. The car seat could have damage that you cannot see.

  • Do not use a used car seat unless you know for sure that (1) the seat has never been in a motor vehicle accident (2) the seat has manufacture date and the model number still attached (3) there are no recalls (use the model number and manufacture date to check for recalls), (4) the car seat does not have missing parts (5) you have the car seat instruction manual (you can often print this from the manufacturer’s website)

  • After your child outgrows their 5 point harness, typically about age 7, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help adjust the seat belt to cross the appropriate areas of the body. According to the NHTSA, ” For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.

Image courtesy of

  • Do not take your child out of a booster seat until they can pass the “5-Step Seatbelt Test”   
  1. Does the shoulder portion of the seat belt lay mid chest, mid shoulder?
  2. Is the child able to sit with his bottom all the way to the seat back?
  3. Does the child’s knees bend at the edge of the seat with their feet on the floor?
  4. Is the lap portion of the seat belt across the child’s upper thighs and hips?
  5. Can the child stay in this position for the whole trip?

  • Keep your child in the back seat until they are at least 13 years of age.  According to saferide4kids the back seat is the safest place for children of all ages. Not only can airbags can cause serious injuries to children, but children’s bones are not fully developed until at least age 13 and are more likely to break during impact. 

There are assistance programs for low-income residents who cannot afford a safety seat. Contact Virginia Department of Health, Division of Injury and Violence Prevention at 1-800-732-8333 for more information.


National Child Passenger Safety Certification Website; Virginia Department of Health; Saferide4kids;;;