Don’t Make One of These 10 Car Seat Safety Mistakes
From that first nail-biting ride home from the hospital, it's easy to see why keeping your little one safe in the car should be a priority. Auto accidents are a leading cause of death in children and as a parent it's easy to say you'll do anything in your power to protect them. But there are so many details to consider that it can seem overwhelming.
This week marks Child Passenger Safety Week, so we're looking at some of the mistakes parents make regarding car seat usage, so we can help make car safety a priority for your precious cargo.
The first mistake many parents make comes into play before baby even arrives. Find out what it is – and how to avoid it – next.
Thinking that price is directly connected to safety.
I've got good news for you. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “All car seats rated by NHTSA meet Federal Safety Standards & strict crash performance standards.” This means that parents shopping with any budget can find a seat that will protect their child. So why are some seats so expensive? There are several factors, including brand recognition, additional features for safety and comfort, and how easy they are to use. As NHTSA notes, ease of use factors into cost and parental preference for particular seats. They provide ratings of various seats, based on the quality of the instructions, the ease of use for the process of installing the seat, the quality of the labeling for the seat, and the ease of use for the features used to secure the child.
So which seat is the best? According to the AAP, “The best seat is the one that fits your child's size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is used properly every time you drive.”
Using a seat that is too small for your child.
Many parents bring their little one home in an infant seat, but aren't sure when to move up to the next step. Sometimes it's easy to gauge if a seat has been outgrown. If your child passes the height or weight limits for the seat, you need to change to a new seat that accommodates their size. But there are other considerations for when a child has outgrown a seat. As Britax Passenger Safety Advocacy Manager Sara Tilton shares, “Seated shoulder height is often overlooked.” You can check your manufacturer's site for information like Britax provides here to gauge whether your car seat is still a good fit.
Changing to forward facing or a booster too soon.
The AAP policy statement suggests keeping children rear facing “until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.”
Some will question this policy, but there is no denying the facts. As the AAP explains, “A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.”
Many newer seats are equipped with higher height and weight limits to encourage extended rear-facing. Many organizations, like Car Seats for the Littles, share more information on extended rear-facing in efforts to dispel the myths.
Additionally, just because your child meets the minimum weight requirement for a booster seat does not mean that they are ready to make the switch. They have to be capable of sitting correctly in the seat to maintain proper belt position at all times – and I'm barely capable of that some days. That's why my three kids – 8, 6, and 6 as of now – are still in five point harnesses.
Using both LATCH and the safety belt or using the wrong LATCH anchors OR using LATCH past the weight limit.
Depending on your car and your seat, one or the other may provide a better option for you, but don't ever use both together. Additionally, you must check your car seat manual to be sure that the anchors you are using are the right ones. Most cars don't have a center LATCH location, and stretching the belt to use the outside locations is a no-no.
Also, as Sarah Tilton reminds us, “When using LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), be aware that your vehicle's lower anchors have weigh limits. You must switch to vehicle seat belt installation when the weight of the car seat and the child exceed 65 lbs.”
Thinking a used seat would be a better deal.
There are many reasons to avoid purchasing used seats. Car seats come with expiration dates, should not be used after an accident (even a minor one!), and require that you know all details in order to insure safe use.
There are many organizations that offer inexpensive options. Your hospital may even offer a program wherein taking a car seat safety course entitles you to a free seat. Ask around for deals and discounts, or participate in a trade-in program (you can trade in your aunt/sister/neighbor's hand-me-down seat for a new one).
You can even win one – right here! – a Britax Advocate worth over $300!
Taking children out of seats too soon.
Children are ready to ride with only the safety belt when he or she can sit all the way back in the seat, with knees bent over the edge. The belt needs to cross the shoulder and the thighs – not the neck or stomach. Finally, the child needs to be able to stay in this position throughout the ride, not moving the belt aside or slouching in the seat. Even if they fall asleep! That could make for some challenging road trips.
Many states require the use of a booster through age 8 or 9. You can view laws by state here.
Using the chest clip incorrectly.
The chest clip may seem like an afterthought, but it is an important part of the safety features of your seat. The clip positions the straps so that in the event of an accident the straps will remain secure on your child's shoulders, holding them in place to benefit from the full protection of the car seat shell. A clip in the wrong place could allow the child to be ejected from the seat or cause internal injuries in an accident. Always place the clip at armpit level.
Leaving the straps too loose.
When your child is buckled in the seat, you should not be able to pinch any excess strap between your fingers. If the straps are twisted or gaping, they are too loose.
This is why it is advised to never buckle in a child wearing a puffy coat or jacket. While the material appears to add bulk, in an accident it will compress, leaving space that may decrease the safety of the straps. Buckle up, then place a blanket or coat over the child.
Using the wrong harness slot.
Check your car seat manual for directions specific to your seat, but the typical placement depends upon the facing direction.
If your child is rear-facing, the straps should be threaded into the harness slot at or below their shoulders.
If your child is forward-facing, the straps should be threaded into the harness slot at or above their shoulders.
Using the car seat for things other than protection while in a moving vehicle.
Car seats aren't meant to be beds, high chairs, or shopping cart attachments. The recline angle of a seat when properly installed in a vehicle is carefully chosen by the manufacturer. Using a seat sitting on the floor to continue naptime can allow the baby's head to fall forward, compromising breathing. And the risks of using a car seat on top of a grocery cart are well documented. According to the CSPC, “Falls from shopping carts are among the leading causes of head injuries to young children.”
Before using your seat, take the time to have your installation inspected by a certified technician, often for no cost. Find an inspection location near you here.