Raising kids is a full-time job in itself. Learning how to use all the gear like strollers, car seats, cribs, bassinets, rockers, swings, play areas, etc., is a whole other ball game! In today’s post, we’ll review car seat safety and share a few resources to ensure your children’s car seats are installed correctly. Did you know that for children aged 4-12, car crashes are the leading cause of death? Considering that car seats dramatically decrease the chance of injury or fatality in a car crash, it is alarming that 46% of car seats are installed incorrectly. It is not enough to buy a car seat and just hook it up. Knowing what type of seat to use for the child’s age, weight, and height, how it should be positioned within the car, and how secure it must be, is the only way the seat will be effective in a crash.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) recommends all children 12 and under be restrained in the back seat, rather than the front seat. This correct restraint is estimated to reduce the chance of injury and death by more than 30%. Choosing the right type of seat is dependent on the child’s height and weight. Check the car seat’s manual for exact guidelines. Car seats must be in a rear-facing position until the child is at least 2 years old, longer if they have not yet reached the height and weight maximum for the seat.
Car seat weight limits include the weight of the car seat. In 2014, the guidelines for weight limits using the LATCH system (metal anchors that are attached to the car’s frame for extra security) were updated for clarity. Car seats are now labeled with the child’s maximum weight, so you don’t have to weight the car seat itself and calculate it out. But, if you are unsure, reference the manual.
Car seats are a necessity for children starting at birth. Infant car seats are most commonly used, as they often dock right into strollers and make it convenient to transport the baby. One of the most commonly misunderstood features of car seats is the seat belt positioning. In a 5-point harness, the chest clip should be at armpit level. If the chest clip is any higher, it can potentially choke a child in an accident. Any lower, and the strap can cause internal injury in a crash. This is a vital detail often overlooked by caretakers- it is not just a handy closure to prevent a child’s arms from slipping out; the chest clip prevents the child from being ejected in a crash, but it must also be positioned properly to avoid injury. It is important to check the chest clip position, as well as the belt slack (you shouldn’t be able to pinch the belt- if you can, it is too loose) every time you get in the car. Different clothes, growth changes, etc. make each trip in the car a unique situation. The image below also illustrates other important details:
Convertible car seats are also an option for children starting at birth, but check the weight minimums to ensure they are safe. Regardless of whether an infant car seat or a convertible seat is used, they must be rear-facing until 2 years of age, or until height/weight limits are exhausted. Keep in mind that rear-facing car seats are up to five times more effective than forward-facing car seats in protecting and preventing injury for children up to 23 months. While it might not seem like an issue to turn the car seat around to provide the child a better view, or be able to see and talk to them, these conveniences diminish the car seats effectiveness and puts your child at risk. To get started, we recommend Thecarseatlady.com– an excellent resource on how to install car seats, and everything you might have questions about. She provides videos on proper installation for a variety of brands, as well as the different methods to secure a seat (using the seatbelt, LATCH, and with/without a base).
From 2 years old through approximately 5 years old, a convertible car seat is recommended, as it provides the appropriate height positioning and also accommodates the child’s increasing weight. When your child has reached the height and weight limit for the rear-facing position on the car seat, they can also sit forward-facing. Also note that if your car has a back tether (see more info here), it should always be used with convertible seats for added stability. In a recent study, it was found that most parents don’t use the tether. The image below illustrates how helpful the tether is in stabilizing the car seat (and child!) in a crash. Keeping the seat six inches back can make a huge difference in a high impact crash.
Here are some common places you can find the tether in your vehicle. Reference your vehicle manual for exact placement.
Once the height and weight limits are reached for the convertible seat, children can move on to boosters. Sources say, “Children at this stage are not yet ready for adult safety belts and should use belt-positioning booster seats until they are at least 4’9″ and between 8 and 12 years old. Safety belts are designed for 165-pound male adults.” No need to rush through the car seat stages- safety first!
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should be at least 4’9” tall and weigh at least 80 pounds before transitioning out of the booster. Once the weight and height limits are reached, children can use the car seatbelt. It is still recommended that children 12 years and younger stay in the backseat for optimal safety. You can find your states seatbelt and car seat laws here.
The NHTSA provides information on how to install car seats here. The Car Seat Lady also provides installation videos and diagrams on which seats in a car can be used for car seat installation, and where to find the lower anchors and tethers. The diagrams she provides (see below for an example diagram of the Toyota Highlander) are especially helpful if you will be using a car unfamiliar to you (i.e. car rental or family member’s vehicle).
26% of children ages 8 and under who died in car accidents in 2014 were not restrained by a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt. If you are unable to afford a car seat, there is no need to go without. Geico and Safe Kids Tucson have partnered with a local law firm to provide free car seats and car seat classes, every month. Find more information here. You can also obtain a short-term car seat loaner through Tucson Medical Center, here.
The Pima County Sherrifs Office provides car seat classes (find information here), and you can also go to many area firehouses (information here) to have your car seat installation double checked. Here is also a list of other groups that provide car seat fittings.
There is no shortage of information on car seat safety. Take the time to learn how your family’s seats work and how to install them. It is, without a doubt, time well spent.
Main image courtesy of Safecar.gov