Any child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for his convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by his car seat manufacturer. It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to 4 years of age.
If your child outgrows a seat before reaching 4 years of age, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.
Types of Forward-Facing Seat Restraints:
Five types of car safety restraints can be used forward facing:
Convertible seats: Seats can "convert" from rear-facing to forward-facing. These include 3-in-1 seats.
Forward-facing–only seats: Seats can be used forward facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 80 pounds (depending on the model). Although manufacturers are not currently making any forward-facing–only seats, many remain in use from previous years.
Combination seats with harness: Seats can be used forward facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 90 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 80–120 pounds, depending on the model).
Built-in seats: Some vehicles come with built-in forward-facing seats. Weight and height limits vary. However, do not use built-in seats until your child is at least 2 years of age. Read your vehicle owner's manual for details about how to use these seats.
Travel vests: Vests can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and can be an option to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear, for children with certain special needs, or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by car seats. These vests may require use of a top tether.
Installation Tips for Forward-Facing Seats:
Always read the vehicle owner's manual and the car seat manual before installing the seat. It is important that the car seat is installed tightly in the vehicle and that the harness fits your child snugly.
To switch a convertible or 3-in-1 seat from rear-facing to forward-facing:
Move the shoulder straps to the slots that are at or above your child's shoulders. On some convertible seats, the top harness slots must be used when facing forward. Check the instructions that came with the seat to be sure.
You may have to adjust the recline angle of the seat so that it sits more upright in your vehicle. Check the instructions to be sure.
If using a seat belt, make sure it runs through the forward-facing belt path (be sure to follow car seat instructions) and that the seat belt is locked and tightened.
If using the lower anchors, make sure that the weight of your child plus the weight of the seat does not exceed 65 pounds, Most seats now state the maximum child weight to use the anchors in the manual and on the stickers on the side. If the child weighs too much, families must use the seat belt to install.
Always use the top tether when you can. A tether is a strap that is attached to the top part of a car seat and holds the seat tightly by connecting to an anchor point in your vehicle (often on the seat back or rear shelf; see your vehicle owner's manual to find where tether anchors are in your vehicle). Tethers give important extra protection by keeping the car seat and your child's head from moving too far forward in a crash or sudden stop. All new cars, minivans, and light trucks are required to have tether anchors as of September 2000. Forward-facing seats come with tether straps. A tether should always be used as long as your child has not reached the top weight limit for the tether anchor.
Check the car seat instructions and vehicle owner's manual for information about the top weight limit and locations of tether anchors.
Common Questions about Forward-Facing Seats:
What if I drive more children than can be buckled safely in the back seat?
It's best to avoid this, especially if your vehicle has airbags in the front seat. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. If absolutely necessary, a child in a forward-facing seat with a harness may be the best choice to ride in front. Just be sure the vehicle seat is moved as far back away from the dashboard (and airbag) as possible.
What do I need to know if my child will be driven by someone else, such as for child care or school?
If your child is being driven by someone else, make sure:
The car seat your child will be using fits properly in the vehicle used for transport.
The car seat being used is appropriate for the age and size of your child.
The person in charge of transporting your child knows how to install and use the car seat correctly.
Child care programs and schools should have written guidelines for transporting children, including:
All drivers must have a valid driver's license. In some states, school bus drivers need to have a special type of license.
Staff-to-child ratios for transport should meet or exceed those required for the classroom.
Every child should be supervised during transport, either by school staff or a parent volunteer, so the driver can focus on driving.
School staff, teachers, and drivers should know what do to in an emergency, know how to properly use car seats and seat belts, and be aware of other safety requirements.
Should my child ride in a car seat on an airplane?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that children less than 40 pounds be securely fastened in certified child restraints when flying. This will help keep them safe during takeoff and landing or in case of turbulence. Most rear-facing, convertible, and forward-facing seats can be used on airplanes, but booster seats and travel vests cannot.
Look for a label on the car seat that says, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." You can also consider using a restraint made only for use on airplanes and approved by the FAA. Larger children may use the airplane seat belt or continue to use their car seat on the airplane as long as it is labeled for use on aircraft and the child has not exceeded the seat's weight or height limit. Remember that your child will need an appropriate car seat to use at your destination.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org: