Age regulations for car seats vary by car seat type; children should ride in rear-facing seats or front-facing seats between the ages of 1 and 3 and may remain in car seats or transition to booster seats between the ages of 4 and 7. Parents can also keep children in car seats from ages 4 through 7, then switch to a booster seat between the ages of 8 and 12, whenever children are tall enough to safely wear a seat belt, notes the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Although parents have some flexibility in choosing car seats and transitioning from booster seats to seat belts, they should keep children in the backseat for as long as possible, say authors at the NHTSA. Regardless of restraint system used, the backseat is generally the safest place for children.
Before purchasing a seat, parents should consider several factors. First, they can select a car seat appropriate for their child's size and vehicle type. Car seat manufacturers and car manuals may provide recommendations for ideal seat type and how to install them. Many seats have height and weight limits, which parents should consider.
Before age 1, children should always ride in a rear-facing seat, states the NHTSA. These seats come in several styles, including convertible and infant only. Between ages 8 and 12, children can move from booster seats to seat belts, provided they fit safely. Seat belts should lie across the thighs and cross the shoulders and chest. Belts crossing the stomach, neck or face are unsafe.