Carseat “Rules”. Do They Apply to You? Really?


Child Passenger Safety Social Media Commandments

  • You must not turn them forward-facing until 4 years old
  • You can’t have 3-across carseats since your seatbelts overlap
  • If you’ve ever checked your car seat with your luggage, you can consider it “crashed”
  • You can’t have the handle up like that in the car.

Have you been told one or more of these Child Passenger Safety “Rules”, or at least something similar?

Most likely, the commandment was told to you as if it was etched on a stone tablet, but where did it actually come from? Is it the law?  Is it in a manual?  Is it advice from a reputable organization?  Something quoted from a research paper or told to you by a doctor?  Maybe someone told you it was the answer they were given by a customer service hotline?  Perhaps it was something a friend at your weekly playgroup heard or something you Googled in a post on an auto forum?  How many times was the information passed along and distorted?  Was it taken out of context?  Are there exceptions to it?  How do you know if it actually applies to your child, in your carseat, in your vehicle?

It’s pretty simple.  There are Rules, there are guidelines and there’s everything else:

  • Rules come in two forms.  1) State Law and 2) Your Owner’s Manuals, and not necessarily in that order depending on where you live!  These are the limits and instructions that MUST be followed if at all possible.  If you can find it in your state’s occupant protection laws or the manual that came with your car or carseat (or any published addendums or updates to these), then it’s a Rule and almost always applies to you.
  • Guidelines come from all sorts of reputable sources.  These include official printed brochures or online statements from organizations like the AAP, NHTSA, IIHSSafe Kids USA, the CPS Board, MACPS and various others.  These may also include sources such as classes given by Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructors, peer-reviewed and published articles from respected journals, presentations by manufacturer’s representatives or written correspondence from industry researchers or other experts.  Most such guidelines are excellent advice and often form the basis for safest practice recommendations.  Even so, they are still just guidelines and some may not even apply to you.  Follow them if you can determine that they apply to your situation, but if they are not included in your owner’s manuals or state laws, then they are not universal rules.
  • Then there’s everything else.  That starts with verbal conversations with customer service representatives at manufacturer toll-free help lines. While they may have the best intentions, the answers can vary over time, even from the same rep!  Websites like CarseatBlog* may fall into this category, especially when someone like me thinks they are smart enough to write an opinion on a debated topic!  Or you might find a snippet posted online by a well-meaning certified technician who speculated about a confusing issue.  Maybe a close relative who heard something from a TV news story and called to tell you about it?   Perhaps you heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend who read it on a secret facebook group? From expert commentary to third hand speculation to just plain crazy.   Take all this hearsay with a grain of salt, because what you heard may be great advice, or maybe it just doesn’t apply to you…

As a caregiver, the only resources readily available to you are the owner’s manuals and your state laws.  All sorts of practical advice comes from injury prevention organizations and other third parties, but there is no expectation that any parent has access to that information or will actually read it, understand it or apply it correctly. Some of these guidelines may not agree with your owner’s manuals or state laws.  If that is the case, and you can’t satisfy them all, then follow the Rules in the owner’s manual and state law first!

As a certified CPS technician, one of my responsibilities is to gather Rules, guidelines, research and hearsay and try to explain it to the parent in simple terms when I provide a carseat installation instruction course.  Realistically, I might interpret and present the same information very differently from another technician.  I may even get information from a person or agency affiliated with a manufacturer, but if that manufacturer didn’t deem it important enough to put it in their manual, then it’s NOT a rule.  Plus, we all know there are grey areas, exceptions, disputed topics and sometimes even contradictions among the most respected experts and organizations.   And that’s why such guidelines and hearsay never supersede a printed owner’s manual or law.

So, follow the manuals to install and use your child safety seat correctly each trip.  Obey state occupant protection law.  If you need help, visit a local, certified technician. These are what will reduce the risk of fatal injury in a motor vehicle crash to nearly zero.  Everything else is icing on the cake.  By all means, research and follow third party guidelines to the best of your ability. But please, when advising other parents, be sure to remind them that the manuals and laws are the ultimate references.  In many situations, third party guidelines and advice may only add confusion, especially if you really aren’t sure of the source or whether it actually applies to your own situation!

The bottom line is this:

If someone tells you you MUST or MUST NOT do something in regard to your child safety seat, then you can verify it in your carseat owner’s manual, vehicle owner’s manual or your state law**.


*Common side effects of CarseatBlog include rash, gastrointestinal ulcerations, abdominal pain, upset stomach, heartburn, drowsiness, headache, cramping, nausea, gastritis, and bleeding.  This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.  Okay, those side effects are actually for aspirin.  As far as you know…

**Exceptions may apply. We are not a law firm and are not acting as your attorney. The information contained herein is not legal information and should not be construed as legal advice to be applied to any specific factual situation. If you are unsure whether your particular situation applies to you, you should consult a child passenger safety technician instructor who is also a lawyer.  Good luck with that!

Those commandments on the stone tablets in the image up top?  You shall not take them seriously!  It’s a joke.  A funny.  Well, maybe not ha-ha funny.  If you were offended, we apologise for the inconvenience.  Or not!

Oh, and try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations, buckle up and have a nice day!  I guess this is really the bottom line.


  1. Elizabeth J. Price May 28, 2015
    • CPSDarren May 28, 2015
  2. Julie Abel-Gregory May 28, 2015
  3. CPSDarren May 28, 2015