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Infant & Toddler Car Seat Rules

When used properly, car safety seats reduce the likelihood of death from an auto accident by 71 percent for infants under 1 year and by 54 percent for toddlers, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. Keeping your baby or tiny tot safe while in the car means following state laws that vary depending on age, weight and height.

Do Look Back

Babies and toddlers under 2 years old should ride in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics' 2014 guidelines. These seats typically handle babies from birth until they weigh 22 to 35 pounds, the KidsHealth website notes. Another option is the convertible car seat. Infants, toddlers and slightly older youngsters use these seats until they are between 65 and 80 pounds. Unlike infant carseats, the convertible safety seat is sized to also accommodate a toddler's growing frame. When your child reaches the age of 2, you can turn the seat around, converting it into the front-facing version.

Check Your State’s Laws

All states require infants and toddlers to sit in the back seat. Though the AAP recommends using a rear-facing car seat for under-2s, your state may not be quite as strict. For example, California only requires infants to sit facing backwards until they are 1. If you're unsure as to what your state requires, ask your child's pediatrician about state law. You are free to still follow AAP recommendations, of course.

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Installation Instructions

As of 2014, you may install your child's car seat using either the lower anchors and tethers for children -- or LATCH -- system or with your car's seatbelts. The AAP notes that both ways of installing a car seat are equally safe for the child and acceptable. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for correct installation.

Weighty Issue

Laws governing car seats include weight as well as age guidelines. Given that not all infants and toddlers are the same size at the same age, these rules help to ensure that your child is safely strapped in. For example, the state of New Jersey requires all infants under 1 year who weigh less than 20 pounds to sit rear facing. A 1-year-old in New Jersey who weighs more than 20 pounds may sit front facing. On the other hand, a 15-month-old toddler who still weighs 19 pounds must still sit rear facing.

RELATED: Nearly All Child Car Seats Used Improperly

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