Car seat safety isn’t only a good practice to retain, it’s the law! Anyone with a child is likely to understand the importance of car-seat safety and how difficult it can typically be to set one up. Almost half (46%) of all child seats that are put into a vehicle include mistakes in the installation or in securing the child to the seat, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The errors significantly “reduce the protection of that car seat or booster seat in the event of a crash,” the agency concludes. Studies suggest that parents and caregivers were often confident that they had done it right, but still unknowingly failed to follow all safety precautions when securing their child into a car seat.
Some of the most common mistakes made while securing a child into a car seat are:
- Using the wrong size seat at the wrong age
- Not positioning the seat where you can get the tightest fit
- Not fastening the harness straps securely enough or in the correct position
- Using both lower anchors and the seat belt— you should choose just one type of installation method.
- Not using the top tether for a front-facing seat. The top tether is critical whether you’re using a seat belt or lower anchors.
- Continuing to use lower anchors when your child has surpassed the weight limit
Car seats and boosters provide protection for infants and children in a crash, yet car accidents are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. In 2015, 35% of car crashes involving children who were not buckled up correctly to the car seat or booster seat resulted in fatalities. For this reason alone, it is very important to choose and use the right car seat correctly every time your child is in the car. A car seat check can help bridge the gap between thinking you’ve got it right and knowing you do.
The following steps will guide you through installing your car seat correctly and keeping your child safe:
- Read your car seat’s instruction manual and your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Every seat and vehicle is different, which may affect the way that you’ll install your particular car seat.
- Place the car seat in the back seat of your vehicle, in the rear-facing position.
Carefully thread the seatbelt through the rear-facing belt path and make sure there are no twists in the seat belt.
- Buckle and lock the seat belt tightly to the back seat. (You should not be able to move the car seat side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch.)
- Make sure your car seat is installed at the correct recline angle since babies must ride sitting semi-reclined to keep the airway open.
- Place your child in the car seat with the child’s back flat against the car seat.
- Place harness straps over the child’s shoulders. Harness straps should lie flat, not twisted, and be placed through the slots located at or below your child’s shoulders.
- Buckle the harness and the chest clip, and tighten until snug. The harness is snug enough that you cannot pinch any extra material on the shoulder.
- If your baby needs support, try to fill the empty spaces with small, rolled blankets on each side of the baby’s shoulders and head so the fit is snug.
- Bulky clothing or blankets can prevent a snug harness fit. Always buckle the child in the seat first, and then place any coats or blankets over the harness.
- Place the seat’s chest clip at armpit level, which will hold the harness straps in place on the child’s chest and shoulders.
You should never put your children at risk the next time you head for the grocery store, over to grandma’s house, transporting them to school, or the dozens of other places you may take them on a weekly basis. Be certain to educate yourself on the latest rules or receive help from a trained Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician who will inspect and approve your car seat installation if you have any doubts. Many parents try their best and still can’t figure this out, while others may think they can stretch an infant seat until they need a booster just to save a bit of money. While there is no link between the cost of the car seat and its effectiveness, please take all the time you need to make sure you have the right seat with the correct installation for your child’s safety!