With all the advances in technology these days, car seats are safer than ever. And that applies whether parents are purchasing top-of-the-line car seat models or the cheapest one that Walmart carries.
Parents who are concerned over safety often drop a ton of cash on the latest and greatest car seats from the biggest brand. However, they don't always learn how to use the seat the right way! And no matter what type of seat it is, it's not going to protect a child if the straps aren't right and the seat itself isn't installed correctly.
The bottom line is that a properly-used car seat that costs $30 is just as safe as one that costs $500! Sure, there's a learning curve, but there's really no excuse when it comes to children's safety. There are way too many sad stories out there about parents who didn't realize the importance of car seat safety and ultimately lost their children because of it.
Many people are reluctant to speak up, even though the alternative might be a child getting hurt, or worse. And although lots of mamas often feel intimidated by people who closely scrutinize their car seat use, the people who speak up are doing it for the kiddo's safety!
Because let's face it: most moms who are using their children's car seats hazardously are totally unaware of it! Here are 20 ways they're doing things not quite right (along with how to correct those missteps!).
20 Baby On Top... Not Such A Great Idea
Yes, an infant car seat has that convenient notch in the bottom, but nope, it doesn't belong on top of a shopping cart! Apart from the clear signage in every shopping cart on the planet that says not to place a car seat there, there are also notes in most car seat user manuals about how unsafe the practice is.
Some moms have experienced their kiddos falling off the shopping carts in their seats, and it doesn't take much to imagine how badly that could go. In general, the best place for the baby's seat is in the car, but for parents who must bring the seat inside the store with baby in it, the basket is better than the top of the shopping cart.
19 Seats Are Not For Sleeping (Except In The Car)
Plenty of parents rely on their infants' car seats as a comfy and safe place to rest. But more and more reports are coming out about how unsafe it is for babies to sleep in their car seats. And although these seats are meant to be portable (because it's super convenient to buckle your tiny baby inside the house before getting in the car), they're not supposed to be used as bassinets.
Part of the issue is parents unbuckling their babies while they sleep, which can lead to them wiggling out of the proper position. But the angle of the seat may not be right inside the house, either (car seat bases and built a certain way for a reason!), which can also pose a hazard.
18 Straps Are For Hips, Not Thighs
Bringing home a newborn can be a nervewracking experience overall. And part of the stress comes from bundling that precious babe in their new car seat for the trip home! Most parents don't realize that although infant "bucket" type seats are built for infants, they don't always fit each baby perfectly.
For example, the straps on the seat should lie on the baby's hips, not on their little thighs. The car seat pictured here is actually not the right fit for this little one, and in the event of an accident, it won't do its job to protect the baby.
17 Floppy Straps Don't Keep Kids Secure
There's a reason so many car seat safety sites are sending out bulletins about using coats in car seats. And that reason is because it's super unsafe. When a child wears a bulky coat in their car seat, the parents have to adjust their straps. But in an accident, the impact of the crash could compress the coat, making the straps too loose to secure the child.
The same applies to loose straps in general, coat or not. Straps that are loose won't stay in position if there's an accident, meaning your child isn't as safe as you might think.
16 Too High Of Straps Are Cause For Concern...
A lot of parents take their kiddo's car seat out of the box, plop it in the car, and call it a day! But most seats have at least a handful of adjustments and settings, and it's crucial that parents read through the manual to find out what those settings are.
But one rule that's common across all seat types is how the straps should go. Kids who face backward (rear-facing) should have their straps at or below their shoulders. Kids who forward-face should have their straps at or above their shoulders. The idea is to get the straps as close to the kiddo's shoulders as possible to ensure a proper and secure fit.
15 But Too-Low Straps Are A Big Deal, Too
Too-high straps are bad news in the event of an accident, but so are too-low straps. For example, in this image, it looks like the baby's straps are too low, so they're falling off the sides of the baby's shoulders. Of course, the chest clip is in the wrong spot, too, and that's not helping.
But in general, the straps being too low can cause all kinds of other fit and positioning issues, too. And in many types of car seats, kids who face forward must have the straps above their shoulders, no matter what. In some brands, however, the manufacturer might say that it's ok for the straps to be below a child's shoulders in some positions. When in doubt, read up!
14 Twisty Straps Are A No-Go
Whether it's a car seat or the vehicle's seatbelt, twisty straps are a serious hazard. It's true for both grownups and kids in car seats (or kids using seatbelts), but it's one of the most overlooked hazards in the car. A twisted strap doesn't allow even distribution of the child's mass, so it's like expecting a string to hold them in their seat without causing an ouch in a crash.
Basically, straightening the straps on the car seat (or the vehicle belt itself) can make the difference between a secure child and an unsecured one, even if everything else is correct with the seat installation and use.
13 That Bottom Buckle Is Totes Not Optional
In many cases, parents might snap a cute pic before buckling their baby all the way, but let's be honest: many parents don't use that bottom buckle on their baby's car seat. It's kind of a mystery as to why, but here's the bottom line: it's very important, crucial even, in keeping the baby safe if you get into a crash.
Buckling every part of the seat is important, and the bottom buckle is vital because it keeps the baby from sliding out. Of course, it also ensures the rest of the straps stay in place even if there's major force acting on them.
12 After Market Additions Def Don't Make The Cut
With tiny babies, sometimes it's frustrating even attempting a car seat at all. Some babies cry, some fall asleep every time, and others just don't fit quite right and it's a headache! So a lot of parents look for positioning pillows and other add-ons to make their babies more comfortable. But the issue is that none of these after-market options have been tested for safety.
Unless you're buying a head support or "infant insert" from the brand which manufactured your car seat (and they confirm it works with your particular model of car seat), it's not guaranteed to be safe for your baby in an accident. One aftermarket trick that is safe? Rolled-up receiving blankets on the sides of the baby's head (not behind) to avoid that slump.
11 And Even Adorable Seat Covers Are Seriously Unsafe
Car seats are a tricky market because of all the safety testing that has to go into them. But of course, parents want safety, comfort, and even a bit of cuteness in their kids' seats. So they might look for a cute printed car seat cover and matching canopy, like in the above image. But unless the cover is offered by the manufacturer of your seat, it's not guaranteed safe for your kiddo.
Just like not buckling the bottom buckle of the seat (this hazardous mistake is everywhere!), using an after-market cover can pose issues with the seat's fit and function. But they're also not flame retardant, meaning there's even more of a hazard to your child, even without a vehicle collision.
10 Sometimes The Handle Has To Go
Lots of parents love hanging dangling toys from their infants' car seats. Sure, the handle is for lugging that seat around, but it's also helpful for attaching things that capture your baby's interest (and hopefully prevent crying during long trips!). But depending on the type of seat you have, you might be breaking a serious safety rule by keeping this bar up while the baby is in the car.
Many seats require that you fold the handle down (or to a specific set position, or one of a few positions) for safety while driving. You'll have to check your manual for this one, but it's worth following the manufacturer's directions for your peace of mind!
9 Chest Clips Go Where?
It is called a chest clip for a reason! It's easy enough to find a photo of a baby with their chest clip acting as a belly or hip clip instead, but I think it's worth sharing at least a few images of non-hazardous car seat use, too! After all, it's important to know what not to do, but it's equally as important to know what to do!
And what you should do is follow the advice that's printed on nearly every car seat chest clip in existence: make sure it's snug against your kiddo (secured straps) and level with their armpits. The little picture on the clip tells you all you need to know about where this clip belongs.
8 Flip-Flopping Side To Side Isn't Safe
Lots of parents are familiar with the frustration of trying to safely install a car seat. It's not easy, and in many cases, it can feel impossible to get your car seat in properly. Fortunately, most fire departments and CHP offices can offer help with car seat installation (go before you have your new baby!), but there are also WIC offices and other locations that help parents out.
In general, you should install your kiddo's seat tightly enough that there's less than an inch of "wobble" from side to side. It shouldn't lean to one side or the other, and it definitely shouldn't slide when the vehicle turns!
7 Infant Seats Are For Rear-Facing Only
These days, car seats are so expensive, it's no wonder parents are trying to get their money's worth out of them. But making sure a child fits properly in their seat is step number one in avoiding hazardous car seat use! Which is why it's important to note that infant car seats are for small babies that rear-face only, not any other configuration.
Most infant seats on the market (the kind you can carry) can accommodate a baby up to around one year of age, but as always, reading the manual will tell you the specifics. The key is you can only use these seats rear-facing, not forward; yep, another upgrade is needed once they outgrow that baby bucket!
6 Small Babies Shouldn't Forward-Face In Any Seat
Currently, in the US, the law states that children should rear-face until they are age two. But just a few years ago, the law said one year and 20 pounds, which meant lots of really tiny babies sitting in a potentially unsafe position.
Basically, children's bones don't completely ossify until they're around age four or five (sometimes later), so putting them forward-facing in the car can be hazardous if you're in a crash. The best rule of thumb is to keep your kiddo rear-facing until they outgrow the limits of their seat, and then keep them in a forward-facing seat in a five-point harness (although other countries outside the US use three-point harnesses!) as long as they fit.
5 Seat Belt Plus LATCH Equals Bad News
LATCH is a super easy addition to car seat installs that's been around long enough that most vehicles have it. LATCH involves two clips to install car seats, and it's often much simpler than fighting with the vehicle seatbelt to get a tight fit. But a lot of parents assume they're going an extra step as far as safety and use a seatbelt to install the car seat, too.
The issue with this is that no car seat manufacturer tests their seats this way, so there's no telling what might happen in the event of an accident. It's better just to follow the manufacturer's rules for installing the seat (plus the LATCH runs out after the baby reaches a certain size, too) and leave it at that!
4 Lap Belt Only Doesn't Work For Boosters
Although it can be tough to fit as many kiddos as you need to transport into their seats in the car, it's important to notice where you're seating kiddos. For children in booster seats, it's often easier to squeeze them between kiddos in car seats. But kids in boosters can't use just a lap belt, meaning the center seat is often out for that reason!
Lap-only belts aren't a good idea with boosters and can actually be hazardous, because in a crash, the force won't be distributed all across the child's shoulder, chest, and more. Instead, the lap belt could cause more damage than protection in the event of a crash.
3 'Locking In' A Booster Is Banned
A lot of parents think: if my kid has to be secured in a harness in their car seat, shouldn't the vehicle seatbelt be "secure," too? The thing is, "locking" the vehicle seatbelt (usually done by pulling the belt all the way out and then retracting it to where you want it) isn't safe with boosters. Locking the belt actually defeats the purpose of the seatbelt altogether!
Remember how your seatbelt locks when you lean forward all of a sudden (even if you're just reaching for your soda!)? That same function works for kiddos, and if you lock the seatbelt, you're preventing the belt from doing its job.
2 Age Doesn't Equal Maturity
Lots of parents are eager to switch their kids to booster seats because it's seen as a big milestone. And while it's great to watch your child grow up healthy, just because they've reached a certain age or size doesn't mean they're necessarily ready for a booster seat.
According to the NHS, kids should be in booster seats until their maturity level is high enough that they can sit upright (even while asleep) in the booster at all times. Which means most kids who are under around age six or seven are ineligible for upgrading to a booster, even if they're tall enough and heavy enough.
1 Even Big Kids Need Boosters
Another big milestone for bigger kids is ditching the booster altogether! But one of the most hazardous missteps many parents make is kicking the booster to the curb before it's time. Even larger kiddos still need a booster until they can pass certain "tests" the NHS sets out. One of those is maturity, but they also have to fit in a vehicle seat with their feet touching the floor, the backs of their knees at the edge of the seat, and the seatbelt fitting them properly (not rubbing on their neck and not being held or adjusted in any way).
Essentially, kids should stick with a booster until an average age of about ten or eleven, depending on height and other factors. Bummer for them, but props to their parents for caring enough to make sure their car rides are as hazard-free as possible!