European vs American Car Seat Belt Paths – Which Is Best?
Travelling with a baby is inevitable for a parent. This is why it’s important to buy a car seat that helps you stay mobile with your baby.
Infant car seats come with an easy-to-install base that allows parents to attach the seat quickly with a simple snap and click. Unfortunately, it’s not always convenient or possible to travel with a base, which leads to another problem: How do I install a car seat without a base?
This is where knowledge of how to use a seat belt with an infant carrier is significant and potentially life-saving. Below is a comparison of the American and European car seat belt routing.
Installing an Infant Car Seat without a Base
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents use rear-facing car seats for as long as they can—even beyond 2 years of age, if possible.
When buying a rear-facing only car seat, parents receive a carrier and a base. However, it’s not always possible to carry the base around in certain situations, such as when hailing a taxi or getting in a different car.
Fortunately, all carriers available now in the US can be used as standalone car seats, meaning the base is not required to install the carrier safely. Here’s where American and European belt paths are useful.
How to Install Car Seat Using European Belt Path
A European belt path refers to a specific way of installing a rear-facing infant car seat by wrapping the seat belt around the back of the carrier, compared with how its American counterpart simply wraps the seat belt near the leg area of the carrier.
Not all car seats allow European belt routing though, so parents should always check if their car seat manufacturer permits it. Here’s how to follow the European belt path:
- Place your rear-facing car seat on the seat of your car.
- Pull out the lap belt and pass it through the car seat’s lap belt guides (little hooks on the leg area designed to secure the lap belt).
- Buckle the lap belt in.
- Pull the shoulder belt out to its full length to wrap it around the back of the car seat.
- Pass it through the special belt route in the back (not all car seats have this).
- To secure the car seat, position yourself in the rear and apply pressure by pushing it against the vehicle seat.
- Remove slack by pulling the belt near the buckle to the front and pushing the rest back to the ‘mouth’ of the belt until everything’s tight.
- Move the car seat side to side while tightening the belt. It should not move more than one inch.
There's nothing better than seeing someone do it for real and the Car Seat Lady does a great job of demonstrating the European installation method in this video:
How to Install Car Seat Using American Belt Path
Here’s how to follow the American belt path:
To ensure you follow the correct procedure, here we have the fantastic Car Seat Lady again this time demonstrating the American installation method:
Benefits of European Belt Path
The European belt route is increasing in popularity for a number of reasons:
1. Tighter installation
The wraparound style of the European belt path feels and looks more secure than the American one. It also does not require extra accessories like a locking clip.
2. Benefits of a semi-upright position
A more upright position lessens the force of impact on the child’s head, neck, and shoulders. It prevents the car seat from going downward, a potentially damaging angle in case of a crash.
The tighter installation of the European way also lowers the risk of the car seat hitting the back of the front seat during a crash.
3. Similar effect as a load leg
Popular in Europe, load legs are an extra security feature in some car seats. They basically give the car seat additional support and restrict downward rotation, particularly in rear-facing ones. The wraparound belt of the European way provides similar support.
Drawbacks of European Belt Path
1. Not all seat belts are long enough.
The European belt path requires a seat belt that is long enough to extend to the back of the carrier. If your vehicle’s belt does not have the right length, the American belt path may be the better way. Another option that some experts recommend is the ‘tipping trick,’ which goes like this:
- If the seat belt is too short to wrap around the car seat, pull the seat belt all the way out as you would in the original European procedure. (The car seat’s lap belts should be safely tucked and buckled in at this point.)
- Hold the part of the belt closest to the ‘mouth.’ Don’t let any of it to go back in.
- Tip the car seat upward.
- Bring the seat belt to the back and insert it in the backside belt guide.
- Push the seat back down. Make sure it properly reclines. (Continue with the same procedure for tightening the seat belt and making sure it’s secure.)
2. Not all car seats have a European belt guide installed.
As safe as this feature is, the European belt path is not possible in car seats without a belt guide in the back. The good news is more and more manufacturers are adding this feature.
Rear-Facing Car Seats that Allow European Belt Path
The well-received Chicco Fit2 is one of notable car seat models that have a European belt guide, along with a few others:
This list contains just a few brands. Most of these, such as Graco, have multiple models that feature a European belt path.
Safe car seat installation is an important concern for every parent. Now, it’s good to know that parents can safely tuck their babies in their bucket seats even without a base.
While both American and European belt paths are recommended by car seat makers, their level of safety is not yet proven to be the same. Many car seat reviewers speak highly of the European belt path because of how it tightly secures the car seat in place.
Checking for a European belt guide might be an important consideration while shopping for a car seat for your baby.