“But the straps are only twisted a little…”
“I don’t have the patience to make sure it is right.”
“I mean, it looks like it is right.”
“How hard can it be?”
“We will only be in the car for a little bit. It doesn’t matter.”
“We didn’t use car seats when I was little and I survived.”
You have probably heard a statement like this when someone is talking about their child’s car seat. Something that seems so simple can confuse so many. We are going to take a few minutes and go over the basics of car seat safety. I know what you are thinking, and you can stop right there. This is not some uppity mom blog trying to tell you how to raise your child. I’m not judging you because the chest clip is at your baby’s belly. I simply want to pass along great information. It may save your child’s life. So bear with me. Read through it all and let me know if you learned something, if you have questions, or if you have anything to add.
Last week, I was in the classroom with Safekids and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Helping my clients stay up-to-date with current safety regulations for their children is important to me. I decided to take the three and a half day course to become a certified child passenger safety technician, or CPST. My goal is to help the families of Southwest Florida keep their children as safe as possible and educate them so that they can pass the information along to friends and family as well.
I see a lot of misuse when it comes to car seats. The statistics for misuse are staggering. According to SafeKids Worldwide, a whopping 73% of car seats are installed incorrectly. Add to that the number of children that are not in any type of child restraint, and watch the number for potential fatalities climb.
If you want to make sure that you have done all you can do to keep your children safe in the car, get out the owner’s manual for you car seat and your car. Yes, I know that it is a lot of reading. But I’d rather spend 15 minutes learning about correctly installed car seats than to spend the rest of my life without my child. If you do not have the manual for the car seat, you can use the stickers on the side of the car seat. There is a ton of valuable information there.
First Step: Do I have the right seat?
When it comes to car seats there are hundreds of brands and models. It can make your head spin. Although there are some basic models and some over-the-top models, they all have to meet the same safety standards. You will find that some models exceed those standards and some are the bare minimum.
The most important factors are the age, weight, and height of your child. Either look in your manual for your car seat or read the stickers on the side of the seat. It should tell you the weight and height limits for the seat. It is important to follow these limits as that is how the seat has been tested. Using it outside of these limits may cause the seat to fail in an accident. Look at the features of your car seat. Does it do rear-facing and forward-facing? Will it become a booster seat? Is it an infant seat that can only be rear-facing?
Once you have verified that you have the right seat for your child, move on to the next step.
Second Step: Rear-Facing or Forward-Facing?
It is common practice to turn your baby around once they turn one year old. The minimum guidelines are one year and twenty pounds. Key word there: minimum. It is recommended by many agencies to leave your child in that position until at least two years old. Again, refer to the side of your car seat to check the weight and height requirements for rear-facing if your seat can do both. It is best to leave your child rear-facing until they meet the maximum weight and height requirements of the seat you are using. Their head, neck, and spine is better protected in the rear-facing position.
Third Step: Where should I put it?
Figuring out where to put the car seat may seem like a simple job. However, there are a few things to be aware of. Look in your owner’s manual for your vehicle to see if there are any restrictions on placement for the child restraint. If you are using a rear-facing car seat, you want to be sure that the back of the car seat is not touching the seat in front of it. For example, if you want to put your infant seat behind the driver’s seat, it may not work if the driver is tall and needs a lot of leg room. It is crucial to remember that you should never put a rear-facing car seat in front of an airbag.
Fourth Step: How do I put the dang thing in?
The answer here is not that simple. You can follow a few basic rules, but it depends on the type of seat (convertible, booster, etc) and the direction of the seat. Here are a few things to keep in mind when installing your child restraint:
- Decide whether you are using the LATCH system or the seat belt. Some car seat manufacturers prefer one over the other. This is where reading the manual is so important. You should never use both, unless your car seat manufacturer says to (very rare). You might think that it would be twice as safe to use the LATCH system and the seat belt, but it isn’t. It likely hasn’t been tested by the car seat manufacturer and there is no way to know the consequences. So, which one should you use? Simple. The one you are going to do correctly every single time.
*Important Tip* Unless specifically stated by your car manufacturer, most LATCH systems are only approved for a weight of 65 pounds. That is the combined weight of the child and the car seat. If your child is over this limit, use the seat belt.
- Make sure you are using the right belt path. You are likely to find them by reading the stickers on the side of the seat. Also, once you have the correct belt path, make sure there are no twists or turns in the seat belt or LATCH system straps.
- If using the seat belt, identify the locking mechanism. Most seat belts lock by pulling out all of the webbing until there is an audible click. Then, slowly feed the webbing of the belt back into the retractor. The seat belt should be locked. The owner’s manual of your vehicle will tell you what to do. Alternately, some car seats have what is called a ‘lock-off’ mechanism that will hold the seat belt in place. This is another situation in which reading the manual is best practice.
- Once the seat belt is clicked in, or the LATCH system is installed to the anchor points in the car, it is time to tighten the belt to get a secure installation of the car seat. Putting your hand in the seat where the child’s butt goes, push down and tighten the belt until all of the slack is gone. When you are finished, try to move the seat along the belt path. You want less than 1 inch of movement. If you are getting too much movement, try the process again by putting some more weight down into the seat.
- After the seat is installed, check the angle. Most seats have either an imprinted line that must be parallel to the ground, or a level attached it.
Fifth Step: Where do these straps go?
If your child is rear-facing, the harness straps should be at or below shoulder level. If the child is forward facing, the straps should be at or above the shoulders. Once the child is buckled in, make sure the chest clip is at arm pit level. This is very important because in the event of an accident, the force that is put on the chest clip can seriously injure your child if it is improperly placed. There should not be any twists and turns in the harness straps. They should lay flat and be snug against the child so there is no extra slack in them. Using your thumb and index finger, try to pinch the harness strap above the chest clip. You should not be able to pinch any extra strap. Remember, extra slack in the harness straps can cause your child to be ejected from the car seat in an accident.They cannot do their job of protecting your child if they are not on correctly.
What did you learn?
I know that was a long-winded post and thank you for sticking with it if you are still reading. There is still a ton of information to go over and a lot that I did not cover. Of course, if you have any questions or want to ensure that you have your seat installed correctly contact your local CPS tech. You can find one here.
Hopefully this was helpful to you.This is in no way meant to be the end all, be all informational post on car seat safety, but it did cover some great points and go over the basics. When it comes to car seat safety, “good enough” is not enough. We must put forth our absolute best and use the correct information- it can save lives!
Did you learn anything? Is there something I left out? Anything you want to add? Did it change the way you view your car seat?