Following car seat guidelines properly can mean the difference between life or death for an infant or child. It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of proper car seat installation. The Hawaii Child Passenger Restraint Law requires children under 4 years of age to ride in a child safety seat (car seat). Children ages 4 through 7 years old must ride in a car seat or booster seat.

Birth – 3 years

Infants and toddlers should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they are a minimum of 2 years of age or until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. “It is five times safer for children to ride rear-facing, as it protects their head, neck and spine,” says Kapiolani Nurse Educator Lisa Dau, RN. Once children outgrow their rear-facing car seat, they are ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

4 – 7 years

Children should remain in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they are at least 4 years of age or have reached the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. Once children outgrow their forward-facing car seat, they are ready for a booster seat, but should remain sitting in the back seat. Booster seats should be used until at least 8 years of age, and when the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically between 10-12 years of age.

8 – 12 years

For a seat belt to fit a child properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not across the neck or face. A child should still remain in the back seat until at least 13 years old.

Car seat selection should be based on a child’s age and size, and fit properly inside the vehicle. A Hawaii state tax credit of $25 per year applies to the purchase of a child passenger restraint.

On average, nine out of 10 car seats are installed or used incorrectly. The most common errors are:

  • The seat is not installed properly (too loose)
  • The harness is not properly fitted on the child
  • The child was transitioned to the next stage too soon (rear-facing to forward-facing or moved to a booster too soon)

“Any one of these errors could endanger a child during a crash, causing injuries,” says Dau.

To ensure proper installation, refer to the specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions and read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or LATCH system.

To make an appointment to have your child’s car seat checked by a certified child passenger safety technician, call Kapiolani Health Connection at 808-527-2588.