Choosing the right car seat for their child can be an intimidating and stressful experience for parents. Finding the safest car seat is not always straightforward. Does the child need a rear facing, convertible, or booster seat? Are there any advantages to choosing one brand over another?

While confusion is understandable, this confusion is a dangerous roadblock in keeping pediatric passengers safe. Motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of death for children aged 5-18 and are the second leading cause of death for 1-4 year olds. Ideally, primary care providers should provide much of the needed education, but this is often difficult as patient appointment times are short and there are many other issues to discuss at well child checkups.

The Car Seat Check app is a pediatrics app, part of the suite of American Academy of Pediatrics apps, to help parents and physicians overcome these challenges.

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The navigation of the Car Seat Check app is a bit clunky. There are 5 sections to choose from at the top (shown above), as well a “CarSeatCheck” section at the bottom that is intended to recommend the appropriate car seat for a child based on his or her age, height, and weight.

Car Seat Check 1

The most useful section of the Car Seat Check app is found by tapping on the “Product Guide” button. This section lists over 170 different brands of car seats, and includes information on their weight limits, height limits, and the prices of each. One concern regarding this section is that the app has not been updated since February 2014, so some of the prices are not up to date. The healthychildren.org website has a more updated list of car seats and their prices.

Car Seat Check 2

Another useful section that you can choose from the main menu is “Safety Multimedia.” This section has useful videos about car seat installation and troubleshooting. There are also audio files and images, which are informative but less user-friendly.

Car Seat Check 3

Back on the Car Seat Check app home page, the “Safety Information” button takes you to a menu with a list of safety topics. These topics are not organized in a very logical way, and most of them link to long text files that again, are informative, but not very appealing to read. However, there are two hidden gems here: a link to a list of child safety seat recalls, and the “Finding a Technician” link, which takes you to a website that allows you to search for Child Passenger Safety technicians near you who can help to install your car seat safely. When I tested this, it worked well to identify technicians near my zip code.

Car Seat Check 4

Finally, there is the “CarSeatCheck” or “Seat Checker” section at the bottom of the home page, where you can enter your child’s age, height, and weight and get a recommendation for which car seat you should use. This feature was implemented poorly in this app. For example, I typed in that I have a 1 year and 6 months old child who is normal height and weight for her age. The app then shows me the following screen.

Car Seat Check 5

To me it is appears that the app is saying that “All” seats are appropriate for this child, or possibly “Rear-Facing Seats.” It is unclear if “Convertible Seats” are also recommended (they shouldn’t be at this age and height/weight) as this section is listed under “All.” There is text in this section that describes when rear facing, convertible seats, and booster seats are appropriate, but this information is not prominently displayed for the user. In addition, this section determines what type of seat you should use by taking into account the height and weight of your child, but as different brands have different maximum heights and weights, this cannot truly be generalized in the way this app attempts. It would be better if they listed the specific brands that the parent should buy in addition to the type of car seat.

Evidence Behind the App

The Car Seat Check app states that it was reviewed by Dr. Benjamin Hoffman and Dr. Joseph O’Neil, members of the AAP Committee on Violence and Injury Prevention. The information presented in this app is based on the current standard of care and best practices. I do have concern however, that some of the information was lost in translation or not presented well, especially with regards to the “CarSeatCheck” section mentioned above.

Regardless of what tools they use, primary care physicians should remember to tell parents that:

  • They should keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until their child reaches the maximum height and weight for their rear-facing seat.
  • Once children are two years old (or have outgrown their rear-facing car seat’s height and weight maximum), they should sit in a forward-facing (convertible) car seat with harness straps as long as possible and until they reach the weight and height limits of their convertible car seat.
  • Children need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age
  • All kids under 13 years of age should sit in the back seat, using an age-appropriate restraint.

Overall, this is an inconsistent but still useful app. The multimedia section is very helpful for parents. The “Product Guide” section is fantastic and lets parents compare prices and reminds them of the maximum weight and height for their car seat. The “Safety Information” and “FAQ” sections have useful information but are poorly organized and are not user-friendly. Finally, the “CarSeatCheck” section itself has a confusing and poorly designed interface that limits its usefulness. Primary care providers should consider prescribing this app for their patients as it contains a great deal of useful and important information. However, primary care physicians still need to counsel patients on what type of car seat to buy, and should not rely on the “CarSeatCheck” section of this app to help patients with that decision. Primary care providers should strongly consider referring families to a local Child Passenger Safety Technician, which can be found using this app or the website.

  • Price
    • $1.99
    • “Product Guide” section lets parents quickly compare prices of car seats and shows height and weight limits of the car seats
    • Contains helpful car seat installation videos
  • Dislikes
    • “CarSeatCheck” function does not work well and is not user-friendly
    • Too many links to long text articles that are not appealing to read
  • Overall

    Physicians should consider prescribing “Car Seat Check” app from the AAP to provide parents with instructional videos and in depth information about car seats. However, this app does have a difficult user interface and does not do a good job of telling parents which type of car seat their child needs, so physicians must rely on other resources as well as good counseling to ensure that parents choose the correct car seat for their child.

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface
  • Multimedia Usage
  • Price
  • Real World Applicability
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