No one asks you if you’re ready to be a parent or sends home a manual with you after you have a baby. Literally the only thing that the hospital makes sure of when sending a baby home is to make sure you have a car seat if they are going home in a vehicle. That’s a pretty good indication that it’s important.
Statistically speaking, driving in a car can be dangerous. Car seats have been designed and redesigned to keep children safe. But as with anything, it is up to the user to make sure the safety features are utilized correctly. In many situations, when a child is hurt in a car accident, it is not due to a faulty car seat, but a lack of knowledge or attention to car seat safety. Make sure you are well informed about general car seat safety and any guidelines set for the specific seat your child uses. Below are some of the common unknowns about car seats.
15 Not Installed Correctly
There is a reason that police stations set up regular car seat checks. A lot of parents (first time or otherwise) do not install their car seats correctly. All safety seats need to be secured depending on the model of your car and the type of car seat. Newer model vehicles come equipped with the Latch system, which makes snapping the car seat in fairly easy. After clipping the Latch system components, you must make sure the straps are pulled tight and the seat is held against the seat securely. If your vehicle is older and does not have the Latch system, you will need to follow the instructions about how to secure the seat with the traditional seat belt. Either way, you should have it checked by a professional before putting your child in the seat. These checks are free and can be scheduled almost at any time.
14 They Expire
We are used to checking the milk and eggs for expiration dates, but car seats? Yes, car seats expire. They do not necessarily “go bad,” but because of extensive redesigning and updated safety guidelines, it is recommended that parents buy a newer model so they can be assured they are using the safest option. This means getting a new car seat if your children are not close in age, and saying “no thank you” to your friend who is cleaning out the garage and wants to pass on an old car seat to your new baby. It could be okay, but definitely check the date on the seat, and consider buying new anyway.
13 Rear-facing Seat
The recommended age to turn the car seat around to be front-facing was at their first birthday. But statistics show now that it’s safer to wait until they are two years old or until they reach the height and weight requirements of their rear-facing seat. Though we certainly do not want to think about it, in the case of an impact, a smaller child is safer is they are facing the back of the car. Of course, if you have a child on the taller side, their legs may be a bit scrunched, a little discomfort is worth the safety factor.
12 Use the Straps Correctly
Infant and toddler seats all are designed with a 5-point harness now, which is a far cry from the seats we could literally crawl out of when we were little! Our little angels are trapped in there now, and for their own good. The chest clip of the harness should be fastened at the armpit level and all straps should be tightened so that you cannot slip more than two fingers under the strap. If the chest clip is fastened down by the stomach instead, or the straps are too loose, there is little point in using them at all as they will not act as the restraint devices they are meant to be.
11 Infants Should Not Sleep in Car Seats
We have all been there: the dreaded start of a nap in the car. Especially when they are infants, it becomes a question of whether to risk taking them out of the car seat and waking them up or just letting them sleep. (Because, dear God do you need a rest.) I get it. But whether you can bring the bucket carrier inside or not, you should not be letting your child sleep in their seat because it is a safety hazard. The Journal of Pediatrics concluded infants should not be left to sleep in “sitting devices” such as car seats or bouncers as it was found to be the cause of death and injury in several cases. Whether it’s from positional strangulation or from strap strangulation, car seats were not designed to be sleep spaces.
10 Avoid Bulky Coat in Car Seats
Winter can be bitterly cold, and we want to keep our children warm by bundling them up. But a bulky coat is not the answer when they will be traveling in a car seat. As discussed above in terms of harness straps, they need to be secured against the body within two fingers. A bulky or puffy coat puts more space between the body and the straps than is safe. Additionally, in the event of a crash or impact, the air in the bulky coat will compress, leaving even more space between the child’s body and the restraint straps.
9 Never Teach a Child How to Unbuckle Their Own Car Seat
It’s tempting at times to allow young children pieces of independence so that there is one less thing on your plate. It’s much easier if a child can unbuckle themselves and get out of the car if you have another child to attend to or groceries to unload. However, especially young children at times do not listen to reason (shocking, I know), and may try to unbuckle themselves when it’s unsafe. Maybe they just intend to grab something just out of reach, but it is not safe to do so. Young children may not be aware of safety issues enough to understand why this is so dangerous. Keep the unbuckling as a grown-up job until they are at least out of a harness seat and using the regular seat belts.
8 Replacein the Event of a Car Accident
Of course it seems like common sense to replace a damaged car seat when involved in an accident. When this question becomes tricky is when the seat itself is not damaged, does it need to be replaced? If the crash is considered “minor,” then no. But if it was a severe or even moderate crash, then the car seat should be replaced. According to safercar.gov, a minor crash is constituted by things like: the car could be driven away from the site of the accident, the closest door to the car seat was unaffected, and the air bags did not deploy. When in doubt, contact a safety professional or simply choose to replace the seat with a new one.
7 Always Purchased Brand New
There’s a lot of baby gear to purchase when you are expecting a little one. If it’s your first and you are creating a registry, put a new car seat at the top of your list. If you can’t ask someone else to buy it, make sure to put it in the budget and buy other gear at a bargain price or used. Even if a second-hand car seat is within the expiration date guidelines, you can never be completely sure that it has not been in a car accident. Therefore, you cannot insure that it will work correctly or is in perfect condition. Car seat safety is not the place to save a couple dollars. Make the investment for your child’s safety.
6 Stay Informed about Recalls
Even when you buy the perfect brand new seat and install it correctly and have it checked, there are sometimes recalls based on manufacturing or product defects. There are a few different options for keeping yourself informed about whether your car seat is being recalled. First, local and national new outlets will often mention any child product recalls. Second, you can either check or create alerts for products on the government recall list. And the last most specific way is to register the product in your name with your contact information so that the company itself will be sure to contact and inform you in the event of a recall.
5 A Car Seat Until 12 Years of Age
Of course we think about car seats for babies and young children. But depending on height and weight, most children should be in a car seat or booster seat until the age of 12. (And should sit in the back seat until at least age 13.) An infant seat usually holds up to 30-40 pounds. A convertible seat is designed for toddlers and preschoolers. Booster seats are recommended for school age children up to 4 feet 9 inches. Cars are safer now than they ever have been, but they are also designed based on these safety recommendations. That being said, you should not rely on the car’s safety features alone to keep your child free from danger. Make sure they are in the correct seat for their size and age.
4 Children under 40 pounds
So we know that our children should be in a car seat when in a vehicle on the road, but what about in the sky? Yes, kids under 40 pounds should also be in a car seat of some sort when flying as well. Both the FFA and the AAP recommend that children be fastened in official child restraint seats to keep them safe during take off and landing and in the event of any turbulence during the flight. Check the label of the car seat to insure that it is regulated for use in cars and in airplanes. (Pro-tip: it’s a good idea to bring your child’s seat on the plane since you will need the seat at your destination as well for driving.)
3 Always Check the Car Seat Before Leaving the Car
While we all as parents think that it “could never happen to us,” leaving a child in a hot car is entirely possible and is the cause of serious injuries and death especially in the summer months. Whether it’s a change in routine or simply parent exhaustion, children are tragically left in their car seats every year. Create a system in which you must check the car seat before exiting and leaving the car. An especially effective method is to leave your left shoe in the back of the car. You’re not going to get very far without a shoe! Additionally, make sure to never intentionally leave a child in the car alone even to make a quick run into a store.
2 Newborn Car Seat Adjustments
An infant car seat typically is designed for children starting at five pounds. In the event that your baby is a preemie or is especially small, an infant insert for your car seat will help to keep them in safe position in their seat. Always use a product that is made for the specific model of your car seat to position the head. Additionally, infant seats have a few different angles for reclining the child. All reclining angles are based on keeping the baby’s head in a safe position so that it does not flop forward. Make sure you are reclining the seat correctly and do not adjust the angle unless your baby has full control over their neck and head.
1 Positioned Away From Air Bags
The safest spot in a vehicle by far is the middle seat in the back seat. That is exactly where you want to place a car seat. A front seat position is to be avoided at all costs for any car seat. A rear-facing seat places the infant’s head too close to an active air bag in the event of a crash, which is likely to result in a serious head injury. Front-facing seats are also to be avoided in a front seat as active air bags are dangerous for small children as well. If absolutely necessary for your child to be in a first row seat, ensure that the air bags are deactivated.