Road trips are a fun part of Summer, especially when the whole family comes along. Installing a car seat correctly is one of the most important things you can do to keep your child safe in your vehicle. However, the process can often be confusing and errors can put your child at risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 59% of children’s car seats are being used incorrectly. Read through the following list of common car seat mistakes to make sure you aren’t contributing to this troubling statistic.
1. You have the wrong car seat.
When buying a car seat, it’s very important to select the correct seat for your child’s height, weight and age. Check your car seat to ensure that your child has not exceeded either the specified height, weight or age limit. Once they exceed one of them, it’s time for a new seat.
2. You forgot to register the car seat.
A small registration card is included with new car seats, and it’s important to fill out and mail-in this card so that the manufacturer of the seat can alert you to any future recalls. A recent study found that only 42% of car seat purchasers complete this process, which means that many families are unknowingly using an unsafe seat. To check whether your seat is registered, use this helpful tool provided by the NHTSA.
3. You didn’t read the manual.
We know it can be tedious, but reading the manual that comes with your car seat is a vital step in making sure it is installed correctly. Your car’s owner’s manual can also provide important information on how to properly install the seat in your particular vehicle; so make sure to cross reference them.
4. Your car seat is facing the wrong direction/is at an incorrect angle.
For children under the age of 2, a rear-facing car seat is required for proper safety. Rear-facing seats have better protection for your child’s head and neck in the event of an accident. Until your child outgrows the height and weight limits, it’s important to keep them in rear-facing seats. Such seats should be reclined to a 30-45 degree angle in order to keep the child’s airways open. This is especially important for infants, who have less head and neck control.
5. You’re using the Latch System and the Seat belt lock.
When it comes to car seat installation, parents should choose either the Latch System or the seat belt lock–not both. Using both could be dangerous in the event of an accident, so it’s important to choose one when installing your seat and stick to it.
6. Your car seat is too loose.
When you grab the car seat in the area where the Latch or seat belt attaches and tug on it, it shouldn’t move more than an inch. If it does, it has been installed too loosely. To fix this, push down on the seat and tighten the Latch strap or seat belt. It’s important to do this every time your child is going to use the seat to ensure it hasn’t become loose on your last trip.
7. The harness straps and chest clip are in the wrong position.
Children grow quickly, and it is important to adjust the harness straps and position of the chest clip as they do. In rear-facing seats, harness straps should be positioned at or below the child’s shoulders. In front-facing seats, the straps need to be at or above the shoulders. The harness straps also need to be properly tightened to prevent injury. There shouldn’t be any slack: the strap should sit against the child’s body without digging in.
The little piece of plastic on the harness, the chest clip, helps keep the harness straps in the proper position. Make sure the chest clip is level with the child’s armpit. If it’s too high, their neck could be injured; and if it’s too low, their stomach could be hurt. The chest clip is a very important little piece when it comes to your child’s safety in their seat!
Car seat safety is a big deal, and proper installation can seem overwhelming. If you’ve gone through this list but are still unsure about your car seat, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Safety checks by Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technicians are free and can give you peace of mind when your child is in the car. To find CPS techs and car seat safety check events near you, check out the SafeKids website. You can also find helpful links here to find out more about your specific car seat and how to get it registered. We hope these tips were helpful and will keep you and your children safe and happy on your next road-trip!