The use of car seats is mandatory to protect your child during car travel. Unfortunately improper use and placement of car seats can leave your child at risk for injuries during a crash. Here are several tips help you spot and avoid mistakes that may put your child at risk.
All car seats are not created equal. Do some research to be sure first that the car seat you are considering hasn’t been recalled. Also be sure if obtaining a used car seat that it has not been involved in a crash. Stress from a crash can weaken a car sear even though you don’t see any obvious damage.
Always be sure the car seat you obtain comes with clear instructions for placing and installing it correctly. If you don’t have the original instruction/ use manual consider getting a different car seat.
Never place a car seat in the front. Car seats should always be placed away from air bags. Even with a rear-facing seat an active air bag can hit the back of an infant car sear with enough force to cause serious head injuries.
When placing a car seat in a back passenger seat, place the car seat in the center of the seat whenever possible. If you must have more than one car seat check to see that any side airbags are disabled on the side nearest a child’s car seat.
Know how to buckle your child into the seat correctly. The safest seats have a five-point restraint belt and these can take some time to get fastened and adjusted properly. First, always check that the car seat itself is properly buckled in place. The car seat should not move more than one inch from side to side or front to back. The harness and chest clip should be even with your child’s armpits not resting on the abdomen or on the neck. Make sure the harness fits smoothly with no slack.
Position your infant car seat properly. Check the manufacturer’s direction to properly position the car seat to prevent a newborn infant’s head from flopping forward. You can place a rolled towel or newspaper under the front edge of the seat if needed to maintain the right angle. Never place materials under or behind your child inside the car seat. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for moving the car seat to a face forward position. Your state motor vehicle regulations may also have guidelines for weight and height requirements for the use of front facing car seats or booster seats.
Don’t move to a booster seat to soon. Young children need a booster to help seat belts fit properly. As a general guideline you child can and probably should stay in a car seat until they reach the maximum weight or height limit for their car seat or her shoulders are above the top harness slots. If your child’s ears reach the top of the car seat she may also be too tall for proper protection to her head and neck.
When moving to a booster seat always use a booster seat only with a lap and shoulder belt. Unless your car has headrest in the back to protect your child’s head and neck in a crash, choose a booster seat that has a high back rather than the low backless versions.
Car seats are designed to keep your child safe during travel. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations and further information if you have questions. Often community fire stations will perform a free car seat inspection to verify a car seat is properly installed. Always be sure to know and follow the current child passenger safety laws in your state.
Car seat safety: Avoid 10 common mistakes, (n.d.), Mayo Clinic, Retrieved online here.
Car Seat FAQ, Car-Safety.Org , retrieved December 17, 2010