Car Seats For Children

Today, there are many different types of car seats for children, depending on their age, size, and weight. The most important thing to remember when purchasing a child’s car seat is to always use the correct type for your child's age and weight! This article will discuss the different types of child car seats available and answer frequently asked questions about choosing the right car seat for your child and how to install it in your car.

car seats for children

Introduction of Child Safety Seats in the U.S. and Europe

Car seats have come a long way since they were first introduced in 1933. Back then, the seats were designed to allow the child to see outside the car. At the time, the emphasis was not on keeping the child safe. One of these early seats, produced by the Bunny Bear Company, was a type of booster seat that had a metal frame, a canvas seat, and straps. It was not until 1962 that the first child safety seat was introduced.

The car safety seat was separately invented in the United States and the United Kingdom at around the same time. In 1962 a British inventor named Jean Ames created a rear-facing child car seat that had a 3-point harness similar to what is used for many car seats today. At about the same time, Leonard Rifkin, an American from Denver, Colorado, introduced a steel-framed forward-facing child car seat that had a strap with a buckle to hold the child in place. 

The first federal standards for child safety seats were introduced in 1971. They required the use of a 3-point harness and the use of the car seatbelt to secure the child seat in place.

In the early 1980’s, crash testing of child safety seats became a requirement, resulting in more robust and safer seats.

Child safety seats of the type we see today first appeared in the early 2000’s and have since continued to be improved. Nowadays, seats have features such as adjustable headrests, machine washable fabrics, drinks holders, color-coded guides for seatbelt attachment, and adjustable recline angles.   

What Are the Ages for Car Seats?

Car seats are categorized in 4 groups numbered 0 to 3 and can be either forward or rear facing. They can be positioned in either the front passenger seat or in the back seat. If the front passenger seat has a front airbag, this must be disabled. If the airbag cannot be disabled, the child safety seat must be placed in the back seat. This is important, as in the event of an accident where the airbag is deployed, a child in the front can be seriously injured or even killed by the explosive force of the deployment.

Child safety seats are held in place by the car seatbelt which is threaded through slots in the child seat and locked in the normal manner. It is important that the seatbelt is properly attached to the child seat. If the seatbelt is not inserted fully in the slots and in the correct places, the seat can come loose in the event of a collision resulting in the seat and child being flung around the interior of the car or even ejected from the vehicle.  

Car Seat Groups

Group 0

This type of seat, also called an infant or baby car seat, is used for very young children. It is rear-facing as is held in place by the car seatbelt.

Group 0+

This type is also used for very young children and is rear-facing but, in addition to the seat itself, it has a base that is held in place by the seatbelt. The child seat has a handle and it can be detached from the base and carried around or inserted into a stroller.

Group 1

Car seats in this group are for children older than 9 months and weighing at least 20 lbs. (9 kg). They have a five-point harness and can be either forward or rear facing. Rear-facing is recommended and is mandatory in some states and some other countries.  

Group 2

This group is similar to Group 1, but the seats are for larger children aged from 4-6 years and weighing at least 33 lbs. (15 kg). The seat can be either forward or rear facing.

Group 3

Seats in this group, called booster seats, are for children, weighing approximately 48-76 lbs. (22-35 kg) who are not yet big enough to safely use a standard car seatbelt.

Booster seats raise the child up to a height where the seat belt fits, as designed, across the lap, hips, chest, and shoulder. Without a booster seat, a seatbelt can ride up so that it contacts the stomach and neck of smaller children. This can be extremely dangerous in the event of a crash or even a sudden stop.  If the vehicle has height-adjustable seatbelts, the height should be adjusted so that the belt fits correctly.  

There are two basic types of booster seats: one has a high back, which usually includes a head support made from energy absorbing foam, and the other has just a seat and no back.

Some booster seat models can be latched to the seat if the vehicle has the appropriate attachment points. This provides the booster seat greater stability.  

Child Safety Seat Types Table


The above are general guidelines for the use of child safety seats. However, each state and the District of Columbia has specific regulations regarding child safety seats and booster seats. For example, all states and D.C. require booster seats for children who have outgrown a child safety seat but are not yet big enough to use a seat belt properly and safely. Another example, is that 23 states and D.C. require a child less than 2 years old to be carried in a rear-facing child safety seat.

See map and table below for further details.  

Child Passenger Safety State Laws Map

Click on a state to see details

Child Safety Seat Laws by State Table

What Age Is Considered a Newborn?

A baby is usually referred to as newborn up to the age of about 2 months. However, for the purposes of choosing a car seat, it is recommended that a Group 0 seat be used until your child is 15 months old or weighs at least 22 lbs (10 kg). The seat should be placed rear-facing and secured in place using the car seatbelt.

Some states allow a Group 0 infant car seat to be placed rear-facing in the front passenger seat so long as the front airbag is disabled, or the car does not have a front passenger seat airbag. See map and table above for details.     

When Can Babies Hold Their Head Up?

When babies are born, their neck muscles are quite weak and cannot support the weight of their head. Having spent nine months supported by the amniotic fluid in the mother’s womb, the newborn baby has not had a chance to exercise its neck muscles.  

During the first 12 weeks, it is important that a baby’s head be supported by your hand when lifting him or her up and when traveling in a car.

By about 3 months, most babies will be able to hold their heads up when in a sitting position. However, the head should always be supported in an age-appropriate car seat while in a car.

By 6 months, babies will usually have enough strength in their neck muscles to hold their head steady and move it from side to side without difficulty. Again, for safety reasons, babies should always be seated in the correct type of car seat when traveling by car.

What Is a Convertible Car Seat?

A convertible car seat, also known as an all-in-one or 4-in-1 car seat, is a type of child safety seat that can be used for all four age groups i.e., infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and larger children. This is possible through the use of easily removable inserts and adjustable levels of recline and headrest height. The seat can be placed either forward or rear facing and, in the front or back seat of the car.

The typical convertible car seat will have an insert within an insert for infants. The second insert is removed for toddlers and both inserts are removed for preschoolers. For each of these three stages, a five-point harness is used and the degree of recline is normally adjusted, as is the height of the headrest. For the fourth stage, the headrest is adjusted again and the seat acts as an upright booster seat with the car seatbelt used for restraint.

Some models of convertible car seats have a detachable infant seat that locks into the main seat and has a handle so that you can carry your baby around when not in the car. You can also attach the infant seat to a stroller.

Does Car Seat Go Behind Driver or Passenger?

It is generally safer to place a child car seat in the back of a car. The seat can be placed behind the driver or behind the passenger seat or in the middle of the back seat. So long as there is a middle seatbelt in the back of the car, it is considered safest to place the child seat in the middle of the back seat. This is because it offers additional protection to the child if your car is hit from the side.

With forward-facing child car seats and booster seats, there are the added advantages that the child car be seen by the driver in the rear-view mirror and the child has a better forward view from the seat. Of course, you should be careful to only take the occasional glance at the child while driving as a distracted driver is the cause of many accidents every year. 

Why Is Rear-Facing Safer?

Rear-facing seats are safer, especially for very young children because, in the event of a frontal collision or sudden stop, the child is supported by the back of the seat over a wide area of the body, including the head. Even if somebody crashes into your car from behind, the design of the sides and head support of most car seats ensures that the child is protected and not pushed into the back of the car seat. 

With front-facing seats, the child is restrained only by the 5-point harness. This means that, in a frontal collision, the child’s neck can be injured when the head is suddenly thrown forward. This is especially important for very young children whose neck muscles are not fully developed.  

When Can I Turn the Car Seat Around?

You can usually turn your child safety seat from rear-facing to forward facing when you switch from a Group 0 infant car seat to a Group 1 child car seat. This happens when the child is at least 9 months old and weighs at least 20 lbs (9 kg).

While the switch can generally be made at 9 months and 20 lbs, it is recommended that the seat be kept rear facing for as long as possible which may be up to 4 years. This is because, in the event of a frontal collision, a rear-facing seat is much safer for the child, especially if it is placed in the center of the back seat of the car.    

In some countries, for example Sweden, it is a legal requirement that a child travel in a rear-facing car seat until 4 years old.

In the United States, there are individual state laws concerning the type and position of the child safety seat that must be used for each age group and weight range. For details by state see above map and table.  

How to Properly Install a Child Car Seat Video