A rundown of Idaho’s current car-seat laws, plus one way to get that rear-facing car seat fitting snugly once and for all

By Rebecca Long Pyper

Knowing the right car seat for the right age is a must — and it’s enforceable by law.

In 2011 The American Academy of Pediatrics changed its recommendations, advising parents to keep toddlers in rear-facing car seats until the age or 2 or until they reach the highest weight and height limit noted by the manufacturer of the car seat being used.  Prior to that, many parents were accustomed to switching babies to forward facing at age 1.

Correct car-seat installation isn’t always easy, but proper fit is a must for optimal safety. Most infant car seats today have a level on the side, indicating whether the seat is sitting at the correct angle. But it can be tricky to get those rear-facing seats to sit properly — they just don’t fit as snugly as front facing, said lead police support specialist Mindi Anderson of the Pocatello Police Department. To get the angle just right, Anderson and her co-workers recommend cutting a swim noodle to wedge underneath the seat as needed.

Once you’ve got the angle right, parents need to make sure the seat is completely secure. “The best thing is to make sure it’s tight, and to make sure it’s tight requires tugging on the car seat — it’s not supposed to move,” Anderson said.

However, most people check for stability by holding onto the top and shaking the seat, and actually some movement up top isn’t a bad thing, Anderson said. Instead, parents ought to check for movement “along the seat-belt path,” and that means holding onto the base of the car seat and moving it left to right in the direction of the lap belt. Along that path, movement should be less than one inch.

All car seats are different, and some are easier to install than others. For peace of mind that seats are secure, locals can stop by the police department’s records office before 4 p.m., no appointment necessary. The department has five employees who are experts in car-seat installation, and they’ll come out to a car and run through a checklist to make sure things are safe.

But Anderson recommends cleaning the car before stopping by; otherwise, officers will also have a discussion on the hazards of “projectiles” in the car. “Those items in the vehicle could be flung around and actually hurt the child or hurt passengers,” Anderson said.

Another law that changed in the past decade pertains to preschool-aged children. While Idaho law used to require safety seats for kids until age 4 or 40 pounds, now all children under the age of seven should be in a proper car seat for their age or, more importantly, their size. Even after the age of 7 a smaller child might need that booster seat to keep the seatbelt positioned properly, said PPD sergeant Bill Collins.

Ideally the belt “over the shoulder keeps your body in an upright position so you’re not jolted so much, and the lap belt keeps you seated in that position,” Collins said, adding that an over-the-shoulder strap running across the neck can be dangerous for kids, while one riding too low doesn’t do offer adequate protection. The best place is right across the shoulder.

In Idaho drivers who fail to restrain a child in a car safety seat will be ticketed $84 if pulled over.

And even though Idaho doesn’t have specific codes that state kids ought to sit in the back, it’s the safest place for them, Collins said. Different vehicle manufacturers might issue different recommendations, but a good general rule is to keep children in back until age 13, even if your air bags automatically turn off for lightweight riders.

Here are the car-seat laws, according to the Idaho Transportation Department:

Rear-facing car seats should be used until 2 years of age or until the highest weight and height limit allowed by the car-seat manufacturer

 Forward facing car seats should be used to the upper height and weight limits of the car seat — that’s approximately 4 years and 40-65 pounds. Also, the top tether should be used until the child weighs 40 pounds.

 Booster seats are meant for children from about age 4 to at least 7 years old. Lap-belt-only seats in the car should not be used for kids riding in booster seats.

Selecting the correct car seat, like these at Fred Meyer, is crucial for keeping kids safe while in the car. Photo by Jenny Losee

Selecting the correct car seat, like these at Fred Meyer, is crucial for keeping kids safe while in the car. Photo by Jenny Losee

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