Child Safety Seat Guide

4 Stages of Car Seat Use for Children

Learn about the 4 stages of car seat use for children using our Child Safety Seat Guide, brought to you by the Division of Community Health and Research in the Department of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Stage 1: Rear-Facing Car Seats until at least Age 2

Stage 1: Rear-Facing Car Seats until at least Age 2
Start your child in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat. Rear-face until at least age 2 and until they reach the upper weight and height limits of the seat (even past age 2). If your child outgrows their car seat before age 2, change to a seat with higher rear-facing weight and height limits. Keep rear-facing as long as possible. Leg crowding is expected and does not harm the child.

Learn More about Rear-Facing Car Seats


Stage 2: Forward Facing Car Seats with Harnesses until Age 5+

Stage 2: Forward Facing Car Seats with Harnesses until Age 5+
When your child outgrows the rear-facing seat, use a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether in the back seat until at least age 5. Remember to keep rear-facing until at least age 2 before turning forward. Use a car seat with a harness and tether until age 5, or until they reach the upper height and weight limits for the harness.

Learn More about Forward Facing Car Seats


Stage 3: Booster Seats until the Seat Belt Fits (approx. 4’9″)

Stage 3: Booster Seats until the Seat Belt Fits
When your child is at least age 5 and outgrows the forward-facing car seat with harness, use a booster seat in the back seat. Use a booster seat until the belt fits correctly. A booster seat is often needed until 4 ft 9 in (145 cm) tall. Your child may be 12 years old before ready for an adult safety belt.

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Stage 4: Seat Belts (and Use the Back Seat until Age 13)

Stage 4: Seat Belts (and Use the Back Seat until Age 13)
Children should ride in an adult seat belt in the back seat once they outgrow a booster seat. Kids are ready for a seat belt when: (1) The shoulder strap crosses the center of the chest and rests on the shoulder (not the neck). (2) The lap belt fits low on the hips touching the upper thighs (not the stomach). (3) Knees can bend when sitting all the way back in the seat, and feet are flat on the floor. Use the back seat for kids under 13.

Learn More about Seat Belts