There’s a time limit on car seats? Yes, for kids, and it’s way too important to skip. So, whether you are a parent or not, the 2-hour car seat rule is a must-know whenever you travel with children, especially babies. Here’s why:
While most of us are well aware of car crash risks for children, the silent danger of suffocation or strangulation in a car seat is often overlooked. Yes! There is no “safest” or “best” car seat for your baby unless you take necessary precautions, including the 2-hour car seat rule.
What is the 2-hour car seat rule?
Car seats or booster seats for children have one vital purpose – safety. However, the safety functions only stretch as far as keeping the child strapped in and supporting their head/neck. The risk of suffocation arises from keeping the baby in an upright or semi-upright position for prolonged periods. So, if you go on a long drive with children, plan breaks in between to improve your child’s safety and comfort.
So, what’s the safe limit for a baby in a car seat? Experts recommend not more than two hours within 24 hours. And hence, the two-hour rule is endorsed by all reputable car seat brands.
Note: It isn’t if the baby is out of the car within two hours but still sleeping in the convertible car seat. Tight straps and the seating position could continue to restrict airflow. Make sure to check on the baby frequently and not use the car seat as general sleeping equipment.
What are the risks?
Studies show that sitting devices like car seats play a significant role in sleep-related infant deaths when not used as the manufacturer and medical experts recommend. AAP strongly recommends non-inclined, unrestricted sleeping surfaces for babies.
Leaving a baby in a car seat for more than two hours at a stretch is highly risky. The semi-upright position could lead to the following:
- Damage to the spine: As a baby’s spine is still developing, prolonging the semi-upright position could lead to serious health risks or even disability.
- Restricted breathing: When the baby falls asleep in a car seat, the seating position could affect the airflow to the lungs. Besides severe health risks, it might be too late to detect signs of suffocation.
The elevated head position could lead to asphyxia when babies sleep on an incline. Meanwhile, car seat straps are the major cause of strangulation. So, avoid any equipment that requires you to restrain the baby while sleeping for long periods.
What age does the 2-hour car seat rule end?
Parents know what’s best for their children – so there is no specific age to grow out of the 2-hour car seat rule. Once your baby gains better control of their neck/head and can safely sit upright without support, you can relax the rule a bit – but stay alert as long as they are in a rear-facing car seat.
Also See: When Can Your Baby Face Forward in a Car Seat?
What are the general child car seat rules?
According to CDC, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among children under 12. Over 600 kids lost their lives to vehicle crashes in 2020, while at least 63K were injured. The agency urges parents to choose the right booster seats and follow recommended car safety rules to reduce the risks by 70% – 80%. In one year, car seats have saved over 325 children under five – reports NHTSA – but also notes that 46% of child safety/booster seats are used incorrectly.
Although age or height/weight limits vary, child safety seats are mandatory in all states. Here are a few general rules to follow:
- Use a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible – at least until 1-2 years of age. Check labels or the car seat manual for height and weight limits. Most children fit the specifications for up to four years.
- Do not place the rear-facing child safety seat on the passenger-side front seat; always buckle it into the back seat with a harness. Airbags for the front seat could injure or even kill the child in a crash.
- Make sure to take breaks when going on long drives with babies; their comfort and safety are the priority.
- You can start using a forward-facing booster seat once your child outgrows their rear-facing child seat. Use a top tether and harness to buckle it in safely.
- Keep using the booster seat until the seat belt fits your child properly – the lap belt sits across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt across the chest (not the neck). The child must be at least 9 – 12 years old to use only the car seat belt.
See seat belt and child seat laws by state here.
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