Car Seat Stages: Progression through Childhood

A comprehensive list of what type of car seat your child needs and when they need it.

Understanding the car seat progression through childhood is not for the faint of heart; in fact, selecting the proper car seat and subsequent car seat installation may just be two of the things that cause new parents the most concern.

Car Seat Stages

The right car seat can make all the difference in a crash. According to the NHTSA, a child under 13 is involved in a car crash in the United States every 33 seconds. Car seats, if used correctly, can dramatically reduce the risk of death or injury. But over half of car seats are either installed or used incorrectly, and 1 in 3 children killed in car crashes in 2015 was not in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt at the time of the crash.

In order to make sure your child is traveling as safely as possible in their car seat, let's explore the car seat progression from newborn all the way through childhood:

Car Seat Progression through Childhood

1. Infant Car Seat

Many new parents choose this seat as baby's first car seat. Commonly referred to as a "bucket", it's easily identified by a carrying handle attached to the seat. Parents love these seats because they snap into a base in the vehicle and make getting their baby in and out of the car a "snap".  

Child passenger safety advocates like this type of car seats for infants because it's uniquely designed for a very narrow size range and tends be easier for new parents to use properly. 

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2. Convertible Car Seat

A convertible car seat is exactly as it sounds: this seat can be used rear facing and forward facing. While some parents choose to use this type of seat as the first seat, most parents use a convertible seat rear facing after their child has outgrown the infant car seat. 

Once the age, weight, and size requirements have been maxed out rear facing, the seat can be converted to a forward facing harnessed restraint. Be sure to check on your state's rear facing laws before converting the seat forward facing. 

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3. Harness to Booster Car Seat

Harness to Booster seats are often referred to the "problem solvers" in the car seat world. These are forward facing only seats that are designed for children age 2 and older. The harness to booster starts out as a 5pt harness seat that will convert to a high back booster for an older child.  

Parents look for these seats when their child has outgrown the convertible seat, yet are too young to be in a traditional booster, or when they have a second child who needs to use their convertible seat, and their first child is too young for a traditional booster. 

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4. High Back Booster

The high back booster is the most protective of the two types of traditional belt positioning boosters. These seats have a structured back piece that is adjustable to allow the adult car seat safety belt to be guided over the collar bone and chest plate and a guide in the seat that places the lap belt low over the child's hips.  

These seats are for an older child that meets the state legal requirements to be in a booster and who is also mature enough to sit responsibly during car rides. Parents rave over these seats' ease of use as they reduce the confusion of whether or not the seat belt is positioned correctly. 

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5. Low-back or No-Back Booster

The backless booster seat is specifically designed for the older child that is too tall for a high back booster, yet the adult seat belt still doesn't fit properly over his/ her body. These seats are primarily known for raising a child up on a seated platform high enough for the shoulder belt to be properly positioned over the collar bone and chest plate.  

If the platform alone is not positioning the shoulder belt in the proper place, most backless boosters include a shoulder belt positioning strap.

Additionally, the seated platform has guides that position the lap belt away from soft tissue in the abdomen and routes the belt low over the hips and upper thigh. 


5 Step Seat Belt Test

A final parental conundrum is knowing when to move your child out of a car seat completely. A common measure is the "5 Step Seat Belt Test", which you can find a version of on Safe Ride 4 Kids.

Choosing the Right Car Seat

Another tool to help you choose the right car seat or booster for your child is and there is no better time to ensure your child is traveling safely than now during Child Passenger Safety Week.

Of course, this is just a snapshot of how the car seat stages progress through the life of your child. Keep in mind that every child is different and it's equally important to both consult your state's car seat laws and use your best judgment as a parent.

Sami Cone

Sami Cone

Best-Selling Author & Speaker

Sami Cone is the best-selling author of "Raising Uncommon Kids", is known as the "Frugal Mom" on Nashville's top-rated talk show "Talk of the Town" and educates over a million listeners every day on her nationally syndicated "Family Money Minute". She is proud to call Nashville home with her husband, Rick, and their two teenage children.

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