The 2 hour Car Seat Rule: What You Need To Know?

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Written by: Fatima O. Millers, CPST

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Both car seat manufacturers and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that a baby should not spend more than 2 hours in a car seat during a ride. This is known as the 2 hour car seat rule. 

The shocking part is, 58% of parents had not heard of the 2 Hour Rule.

Now that you have heard about the 2 hour car seat rule, the next question many parents will ask is when does this 2 hour car seat rule end? 

If you are wondering when to start taking longer rides with your baby, keep reading. I break it all in here. 

This article draws on car seat safety advice from several health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP),, and The Lullaby Trust, complemented by my over 10 years of experience as a CPST.

So, I will be answering the following questions in detail

  • What is the 2 hour car seat rule?
  • Why is the 2 hour rule so important?
  • What to do when your baby falls asleep in the car seat?
  • At what age does 2 hour car seat rule end?
  • How to ensure your baby’s safety in the car seat when taking longer rides?
  • Until what age must I keep my baby in a rear-facing car seat?
  • What are the general child car seat rules?

What is the 2 hour car seat rule?

When does the 2 hour car seat rule end
A baby girl rear-facing in a car seat/ Source: Canva

For those unfamiliar with the 2-hour car seat rule, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), several car seat safety experts and all car seat manufacturers recommend that babies shouldn’t spend more than 2 hours in the car seat within 24 hours period.  

If the 2 hour rule is not respected, this could result in serious health implications for the baby such as suffocation, and spine damage.

When your baby is in a semi-upright position for too long, this can cause:

  1. Damage to the baby’s soft spine
  2. Breathing problems, especially when the baby is sleeping head down.

This means if you are planning a long road trip, you must stop every two hours or less and take your child from the car seat for a break.

The longer the break, the better, as long as it is safe to do so.

Taking breaks allows the baby’s body time to stretch, get out of slouching positions, and move around. This also reduces the risk of developing flat head syndrome.

What to do when your baby falls asleep in the car seat?

Car seats can be only used in the car (a moving car) so your baby should not be kept sleeping in the seat if they are at home or in a parked car.

Also, ensure your baby is well-rested before a trip to reduce sleep during the ride.

However, given that babies often sleep a lot, it’s likely that your baby may sleep during the ride.

That’s why we recommend car seat that offer a good rear-facing incline and great safety features.

Why is the 2 hour car seat rule so crucial?

what age does the 2 hour car seat rule end

A 2016 research published that young babies may be at risk of breathing difficulties if they travel while sitting in an upright position for too long.

This is because their airways are too narrow for them to take in enough oxygen when they are slouching in the car seat.

Also, a car seat offers a warm environment for your baby which can lead to overheating, and babies that get too hot are at a greater risk of SIDS.

When in the car seat, your baby is positioned upright or semi upright for too long, which puts a strain on the baby’s still-developing spine, neck, and hips. 

Taking all that into consideration, make sure that your baby does not spend more than 2 hours in the car seat at a time.

When does the 2 hour car seat rule end?

The exact age for when the 2 hour car seat rule ends is not set in stone.

It usually varies depending on the development and size of your baby, but most car sefety experts and experienced parents agree that around 6 months of age, you can start taking longer rides (more than 2 hours).

However, every parent knows what’s best for their baby.

But it is still important to make frequent stops and give your baby a chance to stretch their legs and get out of the car seat every now and then. It’s also good to have a break for the whole family.

how long does the 2 hour car seat rule apply
A newborn sleeping in a car seat / Source: Canva Photos

How to ensure your baby’s safety in the car seat when taking longer rides?

Before you decide to take a long ride with your baby, make sure they are ready. Consult your baby’s pediatrician for advice.

Preemies (pre-term babies) and babies that are 6 months or younger should not travel for longer than two hours at a time.

If your baby can control their head and sit upright, this is likely a sign they’re ready for longer travel times. 

6 steps to ensure your baby’s safety in the car seat when taking longer rides

If your little one is ready to move on from the 2 hour car seat rule, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Follow the 2 hour rule as much as possible.

Babies should still take frequent breaks from their car seats during longer rides.

Stretching can help them stay comfortable, prevent the flat head syndrome, and reduce the risk of SIDS and other breathing difficulties.

If possible, the 2 hour car seat rule should be followed even if your baby is over 6 months.

2. Consult your pediatrician first

Your baby’s pediatrician needs to give you the go-ahead before you make any long trips with your baby.

He or she knows better than anyone else about your little one’s particular developmental stage.

If your child is premature or has any health conditions, the doctors will often give her a car seat test before they discharge you to monitor her breathing and heart rate while in a car seat.

3. Make sure you choose the appropriate car seat

Choosing the right car seat is crucial. Make sure it’s suitable for your baby’s age, height, and weight.

The car seat must not be expired or damaged, if it is you must replace it. Here is what to do with an unwanted car seat.

After purchasing your car seat, register it according to the manufacturer’s instructions to receive recall notifications.

Buying the wrong car seat or using an expired or damaged car seat puts your child at risk.

4. Ensure a proper installation of the car seat

Once you picked up the right car seat, make sure to properly install it in your car.

Read the manual and follow the step-by-step instructions. Make sure you use the correct type of seat belt and know how to adjust all the straps correctly.

Do you have a Graco car seat? Here is how to adjust and loosen Graco car seat straps.

If you’re unsure about installing your car seat, consider seeking assistance from a certified car seat technician near you.

Ask if your hospital provides free car seat checks or search the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website to find a certified technician in your area.

5. Ensure proper fit and positioning of the baby in the car seat

The car seat must fit your baby securely in order to provide the safety it is meant to.

The best car seats have adjustable straps and fit your baby snugly. Make sure the straps are not too loose or too tight.

Do the pinch test or the reverse pinch test to make sure the straps are secure.

Also, your baby must not be wearing bulky clothes like a winter jacket. If needed, use a thin blanket over her straps (not under) to keep her warm during cold months.

Check the recline position of the car seat and adjust it as necessary according to the car seat manual.

Your baby’s head must not be tipped too far forward or back, as this can cause breathing difficulties.

6. Keep an eye on your little one

Check on your baby periodically during a long ride. If she looks uncomfortable or sweaty, take her out of the car seat and give her a break.

If you are rear-facing, you can install a safe rear-facing mirror and adjust it so that you can see her face. This will help you spot any signs of distress.

Having someone in the back seat watching your baby can also be helpful.

Important note: Car seat mirrors may become projectiles in a car crash.. But, it’s also worth noting that car seat manufacturers produce and sell crash-tested car seat mirrors as accessories for their car seats. That’s why, we believe it’s a parent’s choice whether you choose to use a car seat mirror for your child or not.

car seat 2 hour rule

2 hour Car seat rule Recap

  1. Make sure to get your pediatrician’s permission before making any long trips
  2. If your trip involves driving for long periods of time, you should stop for frequent breaks.
  3. A second adult should travel in the back of the car with your baby, or if traveling alone use a mirror to keep an eye on your baby.
  4. Only use the car seat in the car. Never use it as a bed for naps when you reach your destination.
  5. Make sure you have the right car seat for your baby’s weight and that it is fitted properly with the straps adjusted correctly.
  6. Check that your baby’s head is not tipped too far forward or back to ensure she can breathe properly.
  7. Avoid long car rides with babies less than a year old or premature babies.
  8. Remember to always buckle up and do a pinch test for every ride!

Happy driving! 🚗💨

The safety of your baby is of utmost importance and the 2 hour car seat rule is a helpful guideline to follow. 

In addition to the 2 hour rule, choosing the right car seat and proper installation and fit is necessary to protect your baby.

Supporting Sources to check:

  1. The Lullaby Trust: It’s purpose is to raise awareness of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  2. A parenting website that’s backed by 67,000 pediatricians.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics: A health and safety academy dedicated to the health of children

Is there a 2 hour car seat limit?

yes, there is a guideline known as the “2 hour car seat rule.” It advises that babies should not be kept in a car seat for more than 2 hours within a 24-hour period.

Why can’t babies sit in car seats for more than 2 hours?

Babies shouldn’t sit in car seats for more than 2 hours due to several risks including; Breathing Difficulties, Spine and Neck Strain, Risk of Flat Head Syndrome and General Discomfort.

Can car seats be used as sleeping bed for babies?

Absolutely not, car seats should not be used as regular sleeping areas for infants. Babies should sleep on a firm, flat surface like a cot or Moses basket.

Please note: The content provided on Car Seat Parent, including all materials and information, is not intended to serve as medical or health advice. Always consult with ahealthcare professional regarding your specific circumstances, especially when it concerns the safety and well-being of your child in relation to car seat use.

About Fatima O. Millers, CPST

Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Fatima delivers insightful car seat reviews and recommendations. Combining her CPST expertise with an engineering background, her advice is both safe and practical.

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