Common Questions About Car Seats – Answered in Time For Your Holiday Travel!

Rear facing car seats take up so much room in the back seat and can seem like such a hassle.  When is it safe for my child to be forward facing in a car seat?


In August 2018, The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations for car seats.  The new recommendations state that children should be rear-facing for as long as possible, until they reach the height and weight requirements by their car seat manufacturer.  Rear-facing is the safest way for children to ride in a car. This is because when a child is rear-facing the head, neck and spine are supported by the car seat, allowing those to absorb most of the crash forces.  Forward-facing children are at a higher risk for spine and head injuries during collisions.


What if your toddler’s feet touch the back of the seat?


If your child’s height and weight are still within the car seat manufacturer guideline for rear-facing, then it is still the safest for your child to be rear-facing, even if their feet touch the seat behind them.


As we head into winter, your child may be bundled into a winter coat.  Is it safe to wear the coat while buckled in the car seat?


When children are dressed in more layers, including a winter coat, the car seat straps can be too loose on the child.  It is best to dress them in their clothes, and wrap their coat or a blanket around them, over the car seat straps, to keep them warm in the car.


What is the law in Illinois on child car seats?


According to Illinois law, a child must be secured in a car safety seat until the age of 8.  In January 2019, Illinois law will state that a child under the age of 2 years should be riding in a car in a rear-facing car seat, unless they weigh more than 40 lbs or are more than 40 inches tall.  


Children should also remain in the back seat of the car, secured by a seat belt, through the age of 12 years.


My child keeps asking when can we switch to a booster seat?

My child keeps asking when she can just wear a seat belt?


When your child has outgrown the rear-facing requirements of your car seat, they may be forward facing in the car seat.  They should remain in the forward facing, 5-point harness, for as long as possible, again until they reach the height and weight requirements for their seat.  When your child has outgrown these limits, they should be in a belt-positioning booster seat. They should remain in the booster seat until your car’s seat belt and shoulder strap fit properly on your child without a booster seat.  This is usually between 8-12 years old and around 4 feet 9 inches tall.


Can my child ride in a smaller portable booster seat? What is the difference between high back and backless booster seats?


High-back booster seats should be used in a car without headrests or with low seat backs.  Backless boosters can be used in cars with head rests or high seat backs. Both of these types of booster seats are designed to raise your child up so that the seat belt fits them properly.


My tween needs to know, when can he sit in the front seat?


All children younger than 13 years old should remain in the back seat in their correct car seat, booster seat, or seat belt alone.


Where can I get car seat installation help?


There are safety seat fitting stations in Illinois to make sure you have installed your car seat correctly.  Your child’s car seat can be checked by a certified safety seat technician. To schedule a car seat inspection you can request a child safety seat inspection form on this website:, or call 866-247-0213.


Safe travels and happy holidays!

Written by: Dr. Kate Messing