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Insight from WFPD: What you need to know regarding Child Passenger Safety-101 By Officer Stacy Dawkins

As with every aspect of life, children go through many stages of child passenger safety (CPS). Caregivers often call me with questions on the next step so I thought I would give some guidance on where your child should be in this process. Please be aware that this is just general information. There are no absolutes in CPS and you MUST refer back to your car seat and vehicle manufacturer's instructions for your particular seat and vehicle.

Stage 1-Rear Facing

Children under the age of one and under 20 pounds must always ride in a rear-facing car seat. Because of the crash forces on children's neck and spine, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ride rear facing until the age of two. Tips for rear facing: the harness straps should be at or below your child's shoulders and consult your car seat manual for the correct recline angle of your seat.

Stage 2-Forward Facing

After your child outgrows the upper weight limit of their rear facing seat and they are at least one year and 20 pounds, you are probably ready to put them in a forward facing seat with a harness. Once again it is recommended to keep them rear facing until the age of two for maximum neck/spine protection. Tips for forward facing: convertible seats (used rear and forward facing) have two belt paths for the seatbelt or lower anchor sure to use the correct path for the direction of the seat, harness straps should be at or above the child's shoulders, always use the tether strap if your vehicle has a tether anchor

Stage 3-Booster Seats

After your child outgrows the upper weight limit of their forward facing seat with harness they are probably ready to use a booster seat. Please don't put them in a booster seat before they are ready. Children under four usually aren't ready, because they don't understand they have to sit still and keep that shoulder belt positioned correctly. Children should also be at least 40 pounds before using a booster seat as their bodies are not physically ready for the crash forces when they are smaller. For safety reasons, children should stay in booster seats until they are safe to sit on the vehicle seat with just the lap and shoulder belt and we will discuss that in stage four. Unfortunately most parents graduate their children out of booster seats way before it is safe to do so.

Stage4-Lap and Shoulder Belt

North Dakota law states a child can graduate from a child restraint and use just the lap and shoulder belt when they turn seven. Most children though aren't ready for this change at seven-years-old. If your child is ready for just the lap and shoulder belt ALL the following will apply: With the child's back and bottom against the vehicle seat back, the knees should bend naturally at the vehicle seat edge. When the safety belt is buckled, the lap belt fits low on the hips touching the thighs, and the shoulder belt rests between the neck and collarbone. Never place the shoulder belt under arms or behind the back. Optimally, the child's feet should touch the floor. If that shoulder belt is resting on your child's neck they are too small and need to be in a booster seat.

Tips for children of all ages:

When installed a car seat shouldn't move more than an inch side to side

Do not use a seat if it's been in a crash, the history isn't known or if you get it from someone and the labels are missing

Don't use a seat if it's expired-either six-years-old or the date stamped on the seat

Check for recalls-send in your registration card to be notified or go to for current recalls

Buckle unused seatbelts in positions next to children. There have been cases of kids grabbing seatbelts, wrapping them around their necks and getting strangled

Secure all projectiles in a crash as they are flying objects and can be dangerous

We don't recommend thick snowsuits or coats under harness straps...we want those straps as close to a child's body as possible for maximum protection

If your car seat is installed using the lower anchor straps you MUST use the top tether

(Always when forward facing; read owner's manual regarding rear facing)

Never use both the seat belt and the lower anchor straps to install your car seat

Air bags save lives but be sure children in the back seat are in position and not leaning up against the window in case of side airbag deployment

Children under 13 should ride in the back seat

For more information call the West Fargo Police Department and ask for a Car Seat Technician or go to