Is Your Car Seat Safe?

by Jessa McClure on May 11, 2012

in Safety

What Are The Mistakes Parents Commonly Make When Choosing And Installing A Car Seat And How Can You Fix Them?

baby in a car seatAs a new parent or a parent-to-be, you read all the books, buy the right toys and create an engaging environment for your new baby to come home to. But, one item on the list, that is often overlooked, is making sure your child’s car seat is safe and installed correctly.

Safe Kids Mid-Texas Coalition Coordinator and Trauma Injury and Outreach coordinator, Susan Burchfield said there are some common mistakes that parents make when choosing and installing a safety seat.

Purchasing or borrowing a used car seat

The risk of using a previously owned safety seat is that you don’t know its history. You don’t know if it has been in an accident or has been misused.

Using an expired or recalled car seat

Yes, car seats have an expiration date. They are only good for the six years after their manufacture date.

The seat isn’t correctly installed

After the seat is installed into the car, the safety seat should not move more than one inch side to side. The car seat must only be attached to the vehicle through the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system or by a seat belt—never both.

Buckling your child into a safety seat with clothing layers

During the cold months, parents want to dress their children in layers while riding in the car. But this could be potentially harmful if there is a crash. During a collision, the clothing will compress and the child will be loose inside of the seat.

Placing the retaining clip in the wrong place

After securing your child in the car seat, you should move the retaining clip to armpit height so it rests on a bone. Parents often place the buckle in the abdomen region, which can be dangerous.

Turning an infant forward-facing too early

Babies are safest riding backwards as long as possible. The absolute minimum is one year and twenty pounds.

Moving your toddler to a booster seat too early

They may have exceeded the weight requirement of their internal harness seat, but if they aren’t mature enough to stay restrained in a booster seat, it may be too early to move them.

A booster seat is only there to boost them up to use an adult-sized seat belt.  If when seated directly in the vehicle seat, the shoulder belt crosses their neck or if their legs don’t bend at the appropriate place, then they are too short and must use a booster seat.  The booster seat raises the child up so the lap belt and shoulder belt fit correctly.

How can parents fix these problems?

“Definitely know the car seat’s history,” Ms. Burchfield said. “If it’s from a family member or somebody you trust who will tell you if it’s ever been involved in a crash, then it should be okay. But if it’s from a stranger, like at a yard sale, I would say stay away.”

Another way to ensure that your child’s safety seat is the best one is by registering the car seat with the manufacturer, so they can tell you if the seat is ever recalled.

You can also go to safekids.sw.org or the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency’s site, to access a list of recalled items.

And to ensure that your child is secure in their car seat, make sure the straps fit tightly, but are not uncomfortable.

Ms. Burchfield also warns parents not to add anything to their child’s car seat, like a halo piece that fits around an infant’s head.

“If your seat came with that, was tested with that, was designed with that, great,” she said. “But if you have a seat that did not come with that, then best practice says you will not go buy one off the rack and put it in there.”

Just because you can buy something to add to the car seat, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

How long should a child ride in a car seat?

“In general, our new Texas law says they will be appropriately restrained in a car seat—infant all the way through a booster—until they are eight-years-old or 4 foot 9 inches,” Ms. Burchfield said. “The four foot nine is important because your vehicle manufacturers use that as the lowest height for a seatbelt when they are designing the car’s set.”

Is it ever okay for a child not be riding in a car seat?

The safest place for your child, under four foot nine, is to be restrained in a safety seat.

“And we want children 13 and younger in the back seat,” she said.

Where is the safest place for the car seat when it is in the back seat?

Parents should check their vehicle’s handbook to see what it recommends for car seat placement.

“If you are not restricted by the design of your vehicle, then the center back seat is the safest place,” Ms. Burchfield said.

If your vehicle is in a crash, everything has to intrude further in to get to the safety seat. There is more of an air cushion around your child.

“After that you would use the outboard seats, or passenger seats,” she said. “There’s no data that says left is better than right.”

Where can parents find out how to properly install their child’s car seat?

Safe Kids Mid Texas offers two established fitting stations every month on the first Wednesday of every month from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and on the third Thursday of the month from 4 to 7p.m. at the new children’s hospital.

If those times are not convenient for your schedule, then contact Ms. Burchfield at 254-724-1431 or sburchfield@swmail.sw.org to set up an alternate time.

“We want to keep the baby safe, so we will do whatever it takes,” she said.

Choosing and installing a car seat can be a daunting task, but Ms. Burchfield said having a plan and getting help are good ways to ensure that your child will be safe in your vehicle.

“The best car seat is the one that fits the child, that fits the car, and is going to be used every time,” she said. “This is an extremely important piece of equipment that they are buying to protect their child. It deserves some research to find out what is available and what is best for their use.”

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