Car Seat Safety
However, did you know that 4 out of 5 car seats are not properly installed? Many kids are not properly buckled either! Just because you have a car seat in your car and you put your child in it, does not mean that your child is safely riding in your car.
Here are some tips to make sure your child is safe in their car seat:
Make sure your car seat is still safe. Car seats expire (usually around 6 years, but the range is anywhere from 5-10 years so check your manual), car seats get recalled, car seats get in accidents. Make sure that your car seat has not expired, has not been recalled (or you’ve taken the actions needed after a recall to make the seat safe) and has not been in an accident.
Make sure your child still fits the car seat. Car seats have height and weight limits for a reason. Make sure that your child is still the right size for their seat. If they are too big for the seat then it’s time to buy a new one. Sometimes the child will still fit the car seat but only if it’s forward facing. Just like all car seats have their own height and weight limits, car seats have their own rear-facing height and weight limits. If you child is rear facing then make sure they are the right size to do so.
No aftermarket products! This is a concern as there are so many aftermarket products and people just assume that since they are on the shelves then they must be safe. This is not true. If the product was not sold with your car seat (or can be bought from the car seat manufacturer as an add on) then it is not safe. This includes: head cushions, seat belt covers, car seat covers and yes even those slipcovers that are wanted so that you can update your car seat’s look. If it’s not sold with the seat, then it’s not safe.
Jackets are a no-no. Yes in the dead of winter you want to keep your child warm. However, having your child wear a jacket in their car seat makes the straps too loose (even if they still fill tight). In an accident the jacket will compress and then your child will have too much wiggle room and that can mean a higher possibility of injury. A safe alternative is to wear the jacket backwards on top of the straps (so remove the jacket before buckling your child, buckle your child into the seat as normal, and then slip on the jacket backwards so your child is still warm in the car), or you can make the habit of having a blanket in the car to keep your kids toasty.
Make sure your car seat is installed properly. As I previously mentioned, 4 out of 5 seats are installed improperly! Make sure all the belts are where they should be; this includes where the belts are in location to your child’s shoulders (at or below shoulder level for rear facing and at or above shoulder level for forward facing) and where your LATCH belt or seat belt is threaded through (it’s different for rear facing and forward facing). Make sure to only use the LATCH system when it should be used and where it should be used (this is different for every vehicle) and make sure to use the tether if it’s available. If your car seat can move around more than an inch when you wiggle it, then it’s not tight enough. You can also take your car seat to a Child Passenger Safety Technician and have them check it out or install it, usually this is a free service.
For kids in boosters, make sure they can pass the 5 step test. Just because your child might be the right height, weight, and age for a booster seat does not mean they are ready to ditch that 5-point harness.
Make sure they pass these 5 steps first:
Child sits all the way back against the seat.
Child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat.
The seat belt crosses the shoulder between the neck and arm.
The lap belt is as low as possible; touching the thighs.
Child can stay seated like this for the whole trip (won’t fall asleep and slump over)
A word on rear facing. It’s pretty general knowledge that babies can be turned forward facing once they reach 1 year old AND 20 lbs (not 1 year or 20 lbs, it’s AND)-That is the law. However, the AAP now recommends that children rear face until the age of 2 or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. By keeping your child rear facing until 2 years old they are 75% less likely to die or be injured if in a crash. Children who ride rear facing under the age of 4 years are 5 times safer then their forward facing peers. It may seem like a long time to have your child rear facing, but it’s the safest way for them to travel.
Putting your child in a car seat is a safe idea. Putting your child in a properly fitting, properly installed, properly buckled car seat is an even safer idea.
Brittany lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (a 6 year old, a 5 year old, and a 1 year old). She enjoys researching everything that involves living naturally and writes about her increasingly crunchy life at The Pistachio Project. When she is not chasing the kids around, she enjoys sewing, photography and baking.