Selecting the right car seat for your infant or toddler and properly installing it is essential to keeping your child safe.

With so many different makes and models of car safety seats, finding the right one for your child might seem to be an overwhelming proposition. And with so much at stake every time you buckle them into your vehicle, making sure that you choose wisely becomes an even more important task.

Fortunately, finding the right seat does not have to be so complicated. By focusing on three simple principles, you can find the best seat for your child to keep them as safe as possible. People ask me all the time to help them find the best car safety seat, and my answer is always the same: The best car safety seat is the one that fits your child’s age, length and weight, fits in your vehicle, and that you will be able to use correctly every ride.

Most children should remain in a belt-positioning booster seat until they reach a height of 4 feet 9 inches and are between 8 and 12 years of age.

Sounds simple, right? Sure, as long as you know the facts. There are four stages for car safety seats, which include rear-facing seats for infants and toddlers, forward-facing seats with a harness as a child transitions from toddler to preschooler, booster seats for school-aged children and seat belts for older kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a revised policy in 2011 that advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats either until at least age 2, or when they reach the maximum height and weight guidelines set by their seats manufacturer. Kids between 1 and 2 years old have a 500 percent decreased risk of injury if they are using a rear-facing seat. In addition, the guidelines recommends that most children remain in a belt-positioning booster seat until they reach a height of 4 feet 9 inches and are between 8 and 12 years of age. Those standards are put in place to guard against what is termed premature graduation. Parents frequently want to advance to the next car seat long before their child is ready for that change. You lose some protection as you move from one stage to the next, so its important to stay in what you have as long as possible, up to the weight and height limits of the seat.

Learning proper car seat usage can be handled either by reading through the instruction manual and getting hands-on installation experience or by seeking help from a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician. Either way, I recommend learning how to install the seat before your child’s birth, as many hospitals staff members are not able to help new parents learn appropriate use and installation. It’s extremely important to know how to correctly install and use the seat before your baby arrives!

To find a technician near you, log on to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website at nhtsa.gov or cert.safekids.org, which provides a list of CPS technicians that would love to work with you. The sites also have information about car seat checkup events held within your community. Take advantage of these resources and you’ll have a head start toward making each drive in the car a safe, secure trip for your child.

Dr. Ben Hoffman, M.D. is a pediatrician and expert in child passenger safety from Portland, Ore. He is the medical director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at Doernbecher children’s Hospital and a nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor. A member of the Council on Injury Violence and Poison Prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics, he has helped thousands of families install and use their car safety seats correctly.