Car accidents are the leading cause of death in the US for babies and kids six months and older. That’s why it’s so important to find the right car seat and follow safety protocol when bringing baby for a ride.

New Jersey’s child passenger safety laws are based on safety recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Here are the basics:

  • Toddlers younger than 2 and less than 30 pounds should be fastened in a rear-facing car seat with a five-point harness (that means baby’s secured by five points of contact: each shoulder, each hip and between the legs). The harness should be tight enough so that you can’t fit more than your index finger between it and baby’s collarbone.
  • The AAP changed its policy in 2018 for kids younger than age 4 and less than 40 pounds. The group now recommends kids sit facing the rear until they reach the height and weight limits of their seat. After that, they can graduate to a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness.
  • Kids younger than 8 and less than 57 inches tall should be in a forward-facing, five-point restraint until they reach the seat’s height and weight limits. After that, kids younger than 8 should use a booster seat. Once they’re older than 8 and taller than 57 inches, they can just use a seatbelt.
  • Kids shouldn’t sit in the front seat until they’re at least 13 years old, according to the AAP.

Once you buy baby’s first car seat, have it installed at least three weeks before your due date by heading to a scheduled seat check in your county (you can also ask your local police department if they can do a demo), or make an appointment so you’re ready for the big day. Visit nj.gov/oag/hts/childseats/childseatchecks.html to find a location near you.