Child safety seats, booster seats and seat belts are all required by law in Wisconsin.  We all want our children to be safe but it can be confusing for parents and caregivers when it comes to choosing, installing and using a car seat correctly.  It is estimated that only 1 in 10 carseats are used correctly. Below are some tips to help you avoid some common mistakes:

Choosing the Correct Seat:

  • Check labels and manual to make sure the seat is appropriate for your child’s age, height and weight.
  • Children should ride rear-facing for as long as possible – until at least 2 years old. Don’t worry if your child’s legs are touching the back seat or need to be crossed, rear facing is the safest position for your child to ride.
  • Children should remain in a car seat with a harness for as long as possible, they can move to a  belt positioning booster seat once they have reached the maximum height or weight limit for their forward-facing seat (at least 4 years and 40 lbs).
  • Avoid used seats unless you know the history of the seat. Seats should NEVER be used after they have been in a crash.
  • Car seats have an expiration date, usually 6 years after the date of manufacture.  Dates can normally be found on the back/bottom of the seat.
Type of seat Wisconsin law Best practice
Rear-facing car seat Children must be rear-facing in a car seat until age 1 and 20 pounds. Children should stay rear-facing as long as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends children stay rear-facing until at least age 2; longer if the child is still within the maximum height and weight limits of the rear-facing seat.
Forward-facing harness seat Once a child is in a forward-facing car seat, he or she must remain
in a harness until age 4 and 40 pounds.
New seats on the market allow higher harness weights up to
50-80 pounds, allowing children to stay in a harness longer.
Children are much better protected when restrained in a harness.
Belt Positioning – Booster seat A booster seat is required once a child has graduated from a forward-facing harness seat, until the child reaches one of the following:
8 years old or 80 pounds or 4 feet and 9 inches tall.
Children should stay in a booster seat until they are tall enough to sit on the vehicle seat without slouching and the seat belt fits snugly across the hips, chest and shoulder, which usually is 4’9” tall.
Safety belt A seat belt is required once a child has outgrown the requirements of a booster seat. A seat belt is required once a child has outgrown the requirements of a booster seat. A seat belt with both a lap and shoulder belt is recommended.
Front seat If there is a back seat, children 4 and younger need to be restrained appropriately in the back seat. Children 12 and younger should always sit in the back seat.


Installation Tips:

  • Always read the owner’s manual for your seat and for your vehicle. The manuals will give you detailed instructions for how and where to install the seat safely.
  • Once installed, the seat should move less than 1 inch when tugged at the belt path, be sure to check for snug installation every time you put your child in the seat.
  • Car Seats should be installed using either the vehicle seat belt OR the LATCH (lower anchors) system.  Do not use both methods together. Top tethers (if your seat has them) can be used with either method of installation.
  • Children 12 and under should ALWAYS ride in the backseat.

Safely using the Seat:

  • Shoulder straps should come through the seat at or BELOW your child’s shoulders if they are REAR facing.
  • Shoulder straps should come through the seat at or ABOVE your child’s shoulders if they are FORWARD facing.
  • The harness straps should fit snugly. First pull any slack tight from the lap portion, then test by pinching the straps at the collar bone.
  • The chest clip should always be positioned at arm pit level.
  • Dress your child in thin layers of clothing (fleece/sweatshirt or light jacket) Heavy coats and snowsuits are not appropriate to wear while in a car seat because they prevent the harness from fitting correctly. Use a coat or blankets OVER the child once they are strapped into the seat.
  • Never use “add-on” items such as head rests, padding or toys. Only items that came with the seat are approved for safe travel.

Print this car seat safety checklist if you’d like to have a quick step-by-step guide.

If you are having trouble installing your seat correctly, don’t worry, you are not alone.  When in doubt, get help. Certified technicians are available to answer questions and check your child’s car seat. Local fire and police stations and hospitals are good places to start when looking for a certified technician.   To find a car seat check up event or a technician in your area visit: or call #1-866-SEAT-CHECK.

How did you find out about proper car seat safety for your child?

Shannon Ryan is a Certified Social Worker and works as a Service Coordinator at Penfield Children’s Center. She is also a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.   

“Car Seat Safety.” Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Web. 30 October 2013. <>.

NHTSA. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Web. 30 October 2013.


Parents Central: From Car Seats to Car Keys: Keeping Kids Safe. Web. 30 October 2013. <>.

SafeKids Wisconsin. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Web. 30 October 2013.


Wilford, Chantel. “Car Seat Safety Part 1: Proper Use and Common Mistakes.” ButterflyBirth. 15 January 2013. Web. 30 October 2013.


Wisconsin Information Network for Safety. WIS-DOT Bureau of Transportation Safety. Web. 30 October 2013. <>.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content