Even when your child is sitting in a car seat, there is still the potential for injury if you do not follow some safety rules. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3 out of 4 car seats are not used correctly. Here are some common, yet dangerous, mistakes parents may make when putting their baby or child in a car seat, and how to make sure your child is safe in her car seat.
Car seats can sometimes be confusing to set up. Make sure you read the instructions very carefully. If you are unsure if you have set up your car seat properly, your neighborhood probably has places where you can get your car seat installed in your car for you. LATCH clips eliminate a lot of the confusion and room for error when installing your car seat. Most cars manufactured after September 2002 have LATCH tethers. If your car has them, you can use the LATCH installation rather than the seat belt installation method, unless your child is over the weight limit for the LATCH system (check your car manual to find out what this limit is.)
Loose or Twisted Straps
It’s important to make sure your child’s car seat belt straps are on tight enough. After putting on your child’s seat belt, make sure you can fit only one or two fingers in between the belt and your child. If you can fit more than two fingers, tighten the straps. If you can’t fit a finger in, you can loosen the straps a little to make your child more comfortable. In addition, your baby or child shouldn’t wear puffy coats in car seats since it will interfere with proper harnessing. If it’s cold out, dress your child in layers, and take off the top layer(s) while your child is in her car seat. You can also find a warm winter coat that is not puffy. Also, make sure the harness straps are straight and not twisted in any way.
Chest Clip Positioning
The position of the chest clip on your child’s seat belt is important. If it is too low, a baby or child could fall out of the car seat in the event of an accident where your car flips over. The chest clip should be at your baby or child’s armpit level.
Harness Strap Location
The position of the harness straps is also important. For an infant car seat, the straps should be at or just below your child’s shoulders. For a rear facing convertible car seat, the straps should be at or just below your child’s shoulders. For a forward-facing convertible car seat, the harness straps should be at or just above your child’s shoulder level.
Older Car Seats
Many people like to save money by using the same car seat with their next child. This should be fine in some cases, but it’s important to make sure of a few things. First, check the manufacturer’s website to make sure the car seat was not recalled for any reason. Second, check the manufacture date on the car seat. Car seats have a limit on how many years they are useable for, some as low as 5 years from the manufacture date. Next make sure the car seat doesn’t have any cracks or other damage that occurred while it was stored away. Finally, make sure you still have the instructions for the car seat (if not, you can usually find them online at the manufacturer’s website.) Check them when installing the car seat, even if you think you remember how to install it.
If you are in an Accident
If you get into an accident with your car seat in the car, you need to get a new one. You have to get rid of the car seat even if there is no obvious damage to it. Some car seats have an indicator such as a sticker that, if broken, means the car seat is no longer safe to be used. Contact the manufacturer of your car seat and ask if they would like you to send them the car seat. Sometimes they can use it for accident research purposes to improve on future models, and they may offer you a discount on purchasing a new car seat.
Keep Kids Healthy: Car Seat Mistakes
NHTSA: Child Passenger Safety (CPS) – LATCH