Car Seat Safety

Did you know that car crashes are the number one cause of death in children? Right now at this moment, are you certain that your child’s car seat is installed correctly? Would you feel confident that their car seat would keep them safe if you were to get into an accident today? Are you aware of the current car seat safety recommendations?

What if I told you that 96% of parents believe that their child’s car seat is installed correctly, while 72-84% of car seats are being improperly used.

I so often see car seats being used incorrectly, which could definitely be dangerous if the child were to get into a car wreck. There are even ways that the seat can be unsafe outside of the vehicle, and I will mention that later.

I wanted to share some of the biggest mistakes I personally see parents making when it comes to their children’s car seats.

  • Is your child in the correct car seat? It is significantly safer for children to be in rear-facing car seats during a collision. The current recommendations are that children should be in a rear-facing seat until AT LEAST the age of two, although some state laws have not been updated to the latest best practice. Most children will outgrow their infant seat before the age of two, which means they need to be upgraded to a convertible seat that can be installed both rear-facing and front-facing. Many people believe that once a child’s feet touch the back of the seat, that it is time to turn their car seat around, but that is a myth. ALWAYS follow the recommendations of your specific car seat brand, but once your child is two-years-old and 40-65 lbs, it may be time to turn the seat around.

  • Are the straps tight enough, but not too tight? I frequently see infants strapped into their seats with the straps way too loose. Once the harness and chest clip are buckled, you should not be able to pinch the straps at shoulder level. If the straps don’t pass the pinch test, tighten them according to your car seat’s manual. Also make sure that the straps are not twisted, as this could cause the harness to malfunction during a collision.
  • Is the chest clip at armpit level? This is probably the most common car seat mistake that I see! The chest clip’s purpose is to keep the seat’s harness in the correct position against the child’s shoulders, so that during a collision, the impact is distributed across the child’s upper body. If the chest clip is too low, the child’s shoulders could come out during a collision, increasing the chance of injury. A child could also more easily move themselves from the car seat if they are able to get their shoulders free due to the chest clip being too low. A chest clip that is too high could cause bruising and internal injuries during a collision. The perfect spot is right at armpit level!

  • Do you put your child in their car seat wearing a winter coat? Check out the visual below to see just how dangerous this can be. Many bulky winter coats cause you to loosen the harness straps, but during a collision the harness needs to be snug against your child’s shoulders. The coats can compress due to the force of impact creating slack in the harness. What I typically do with my son on cold mornings is I’ll put him in a thin jacket for the car ride to daycare and then put his coat on once I unbuckle him. You could also use a blanket or place a jacket backwards over top of the harness.

  • Have you used after-market products on your car seats? I know that those car seat accessories can be adorable, but they can be dangerous. You never want to put anything on your car seat that didn’t originally come with the seat or that isn’t recommended by your car seat’s manual. This includes car seat covers and anything that go between the child and the car seat itself. Other accessories, such as mirrors and toys can come loose during a crash and become projectiles. If your car seat doesn’t come with padding for extra small newborns, use rolled up receiving blankets placed on each side of the baby for support.

  • Did you know that using an infant car seat in the seat of a shopping cart is very dangerous? The car seat could topple over due to the fact that shopping carts are not designed to have car seats hooked onto them. Instead, the car seat should go inside the cart. There are also products, such as the shopping cart baby hammocks that are a much better option than putting your infant car seat on the shopping cart.

  • Did you purchase your car seat used? If so, make sure it is not expired! Car seats typically expire six years after being manufactured, so if you’re planning on buying second hand, check the expiration date beforehand! Also be sure to inspect the seat thoroughly to check for any damage from a vehicle collision. Car seats are supposed to be discarded following a wreck, but people often try to resell them. To be safe, keep up with new car seat sales, such as at Toys R Us, Walmart, Target & Amazon!
  • Finally, is your car seat installed correctly? Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to install your specific seat. If you are installing a car seat using the LATCH system, you don’t need to also use the seat belt installation method. If the seat is forward facing, make sure you are using the top tether, as directed by the manual. Also make sure any of the belts and anchor straps are tight; the car seat should not move back and forth or side to side when you manually try to move it after the seat has been installed. It is always better to be safe than sorry, so stop by a fire station and have them inspect your car seat. Check out the NHTSA to find a local station!

I hope that you benefit from this information. Car seat installation and recommendations can be confusing, especially for first time parents. And those cute baby products can be tempting, but always remember that nothing is worth the risk of something happening to your child in the event of a vehicle collision! Please share this post with family and friends who may need these reminders or with first time parents who are installing car seats for the first time!

Katie Miller, Infant-Toddler Family Therapist