The Case Against Overhead Shield Car Seats

Why Experts Say You Shouldn't Buy One

Baby in Overhead Shield Car Seat
This baby is riding in an overhead shield car seat. Getty / Stephanie Rausser

Overhead shield car seats are not commonly available any more. Only a few models have been manufactured in recent years. Some of these car seats may still be found at yard sales, though. If you come across a used overhead shield car seat, it's probably several years old, it may be expired, and there are better car seat options available.

    Overhead shield car seats, which feature a horizontal bar or tray that comes down to rest in front of the baby, do meet the minimum federal safety standards, but in crashes they do not protect babies as well as a 5-point harness. Following are reasons why car seat safety experts say you shouldn't purchase an overhead shield car seat for your child.

    What is an Overhead Shield Car Seat?

    These car seats feature a large, often padded bar or tray that swings down over the baby's head. Shoulder straps run between the tray and the car seat back, and a buckle on the bottom of the tray attaches to the car seat between the baby's legs.

    As car seat safety testing and crash test technologies have advanced and improved, car seats have changed in many ways. When manufacturers begin phasing out a particular type of car seat, or stop making it altogether, that can be a sign that modern testing shows it to be less effective in protecting children in crashes.

    While an overhead shield car seat is better than not using a car seat at all, there are better car seats to protect your child on the road today.

    A Barrier Is Not Necessary

    Many parents like the look of overhead shield seats, and may think that the horizontal bar, or tray, adds a safety barrier to keep their child from flying forward in a crash.

    In reality, the bar or tray may actually cause harm to a baby in a crash because trays rarely contain enough padding to prevent head or chest injuries when the baby strikes the tray with great force. At least one child has died as a result of a head injury caused by contact with an overhead shield seat.

    One Size Doesn't Fit All

    One major problem with overhead shield car seats is the way the tray buckles down between the baby's legs. The tray is rigid, and only buckles in one position at the bottom of the car seat, meaning there is no room to adjust the crotch strap to accommodate babies of varying sizes.

    There are no straps that go over baby's hips, as there are in a 5-point harness system. The result of the overhead shield belt system is that babies can move further forward and side-to-side in a crash before the belts will stop their movement. The more baby can move in a crash, the more acceleration and force there will be when the belts do finally stop the movement. For this reason, a 5-point harness that is adjustable to properly fit each baby is the best choice.

    Infants Don't Fit These Seats Properly

    Small infants are not tall enough and cannot sit up straight enough to be safe in overhead shield car seats.

    The tray height is not adjustable on many seats, which puts a small baby's face directly in front of the tray and directly at risk for facial and head injuries in the case of an accident. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have both recommended against using overhead shield car seats for infants for these reasons.

    Buy a Seat You Will Use Properly

    Though car seat safety experts recommend against overhead shield car seats, it is important to note that the safest car seat is one that you can commit to using correctly every single time your baby is in the car. A child would be safer in a properly used overhead shield seat than with no car seat at all, or in a car seat that was not buckled properly every time.