It’s that time of the year when we spend more time loading up the car to spend a day at the park or the beach. Take a few minutes to double check your car seat safety tips and installation guide just to be sure your baby is properly protected.
Here are nine tips to keep your child safe in the or car seat safety restraint:
1. Rear-Facing Until 2 Years Old
Ask a SafeKids.org certified car seat safety technician how long to keep a child rear facing and they will answer, “As long as possible.” The fact is, while most states have adopted the law of keeping babies and toddlers rear-facing until they are at least two years of age, we would all be safer traveling in the backward position.
Only 7% of highway fatalities result from rear impacts, meaning the biggest threat to injury is a front or side impact. In a front impact, your body snaps forward based on its continued inertia while the entire car stops, sometimes going 70+ miles per hour. When sitting in the rear-facing position, your body has a cradle to reduce its forward momentum from further jarring, impact and internal injuries.
2. Less Than One Inch of Seat Movement
Check your child’s car seat to make sure “the install” is still secure. Over time, siblings may play with the belt or something may happen to adjust how the car seat was installed. Grab the car seat along the seat belt path and try to move it from left to right. If it moves more than one inch, you need to redo the seat belt or LATCH installation. This is too much movement for the seat during an accident and can lead to car seat failure during a crash or further injury to your child.
Keep in mind that the car seat will have more movement near the headrest of the car seat. This is because the seat belt isn’t holding this section in place. This is by design to allow the car seat to move with your child’s body during an accident. Don’t try to MacGyver it to have zero movement.
3. Check the Harness Position
Confirm that the harness on the car seat is at the right level for your child’s height and the orientation of the car seat. When your kids are in the rear-facing position, the harness should come from below or at the same level of his or her shoulders. When your child transitions to the forward-facing car seat position, the harness comes from at or above his or her shoulder level. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.
You may need to adjust the harness from the back of the car seat. If you have to rethread the harness, make sure that the left and right straps are going through their respective slots at the same level. This is one of the most common mistakes car seat technicians see: the left side has the left strap going through the second slot while the right side has the right strap going through the third. These need to match.
4. Chest Clip at Armpit Height
The chest clip, sometimes called the retainer clip, is the clip that slides up the harness straps. It belongs in line with the nipple or at armpit height. For real little infants, this can be a bit difficult to get right but it is important. The chest clip helps position the harness straps in the proper place keeping the shoulders and arms from sliding out from the harness.
It’s best to position the chest clip last since it can find its way up or down as you tighten the harness around the legs and hips. Make sure the clip is secure and doesn’t have clothing pinched in the snap.
5. Do the Pinch Test
Don’t pinch your baby! Maybe your husband, but not the baby! Seriously, the “pinch test” is an easy way to make sure the harness is fitted to your baby properly after you have him or her all snapped in. Place your thumb on a vertical harness strap near your baby’s chest. Position your forefinger vertically above the thumb and try to pinch the harness strap. If you can pinch it, the harness is too loose.
Don’t make the harness too tight either. You should be able to get your finger in between your baby and the harness strap without too much effort.
6. Seat Height and Weight Limit
Every car seat has a label on the side that tells you the height and weight limit of the car seat. This is the height and weight limit of your child to be safely restrained in an accident. For example, many rear-facing car seats have a weight limit of 35 pounds and a height limit of 32 inches. Every car seat is different, so read the label and confirm that your child still fits the seat.
If your child exceeds either, he or she has outgrown the car seat. Additionally, note that some kids might be within the height and weight requirement but still outgrow the seat because of their torso length. That’s right, some kids grow faster from the hips up and might have their head start to top out with less than 1.5 inches of space between the top of the car seat and the top of their crown. Sorry, but this means it’s time to get a new car seat.
7. LATCH Limits
Check the LATCH weight limits and do the math. LATCH is the acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren, a system developed to make car seat installations easier. The LATCH system has anchors that connect into a metal bar located in the vehicle seat. Rear-facing kids don’t use a Tether that is there to prevent forward head acceleration in an accident.
The problem with LATCH is you have to consider the weight of the car seat plus your child’s weight to see if the cumulative weight is less than the car manufacturer’s weight limit. In most cars manufactured after February 2014, the combined weight limit is 65 pounds. Don’t rely on this information and double check with your car manufacturer and then tally your child’s car seat weight plus theirs.
You can still use the car seat if it exceeds the LATCH weight limit but your child still meets the height and weight limits of the seat. Just transition to using a seatbelt installation rather than the LATCH.
8. Projectile Free
Take a look around the car and see what might be loose in the cab. This includes your purse, a bottle of water, and anything you might have given your child to play with or snack on. Make it a habit of stowing everything in the trunk of the car where things are contained during an accident. Anything in the car can become a projectile at impact. Even mirrors can become dislodged at impact and travel across the car.
While a plush toy is not likely to be a problem, think about everything else. And, it isn’t just the danger of hitting your baby. We’ve seen reports of a small plastic toy flying forward during an accident that was otherwise a minor incident; the toy hit mom in the head, causing her to lose consciousness.
9. Inherited a Seat
Car seats can be pricey. Most car seats have an expiration date ranging from seven to 10 years as noted on the sticker with the seat serial number on the underside or side of the car seat. If you are getting a seat from a relative or friend, confirm that the seat is within the expiration period. Plastic degrades, especially after the wear and tear of seat belt torque on stress points on the seat.
Also, find out if the car seat was ever in an accident. If someone cannot confirm the history of the car seat you should find an alternative. Just because it is a $300 designer car seat doesn’t mean it will be safe for your child if you don’t know the history. Go to Walmart and buy a cheaper new model that has no negative history. These seats are tested by the same standards as the expensive ones.
Final Thoughts on Car Seat Safety
This isn’t an all-inclusive list of everything you need to know about car seat safety. If you are concerned about your child’s safety and how their car seat is installed, contact a local and licensed car seat safety technician. If you are having trouble locating one, drop a comment and we’ll help you get the help you need.
Also, please realize that children die every year because they were accidentally left in the car. No judgment here as to why that can happen – life can get crazy. We understand. Just make sure to create a habit of that one extra check in the backseat for baby. We can all make a difference in saving more lives.