Car Seat Safety: Common Mistakes to Avoid

July 30, 2021

car seat safety

Car crashes remain a leading cause of death for children and in over the last 10 years, four children under 14 and younger died each day. As researchers learn and the technology used in cars evolve, recommendations for how to best keep children safe in the car are frequently updated. While this is great, it can, however, make it difficult or confusing to keep up. Your doctor likely recommended a birthing class during pregnancy, but most expectant parents don’t take a class that teaches car seat installation or the dos and don’ts of car seat safety. To help, here are some common mistakes to avoid:

1. Loose Car Seat

According to car seat inspectors, the number one mistake that parents make is failing to securely install the car seat. Grasping with both hands on the base, you shouldn’t be ablet o move to the seat from side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch. Read the car seat’s instruction manual carefully, as well as your vehicle’s owner manual. When available, using the car’s LATCH system is the ideal installation method. If you need to use your vehicles seat belt instead, make sure to lock the seat belt. Failing to tightly secure a car seat could cause it to crash into the back of the front seat in a collision, causing serious injury to the face or head. It can also result in the seat ejecting from the car altogether.

2. Loose Harness

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children use a car seat with a five-point harness for as long as possible until they reach the height and weight limits for their seat. It’s important to make sure the harness is not too loose after you’ve tightened your child into their car seat. Failing to do so could result in your child being ejected from their car seat in the event of a collision. This could result in injury from hitting parts of the car’s interior or another passenger, or the child could be ejected from the car entirely.  A good rule of thumb is that if you can still pinch the fabric of the harness straps between your fingers, they harness is too loose.

3. Forward Facing Too Soon

Previously, it was recommended that children should remain rear-facing until age 2. But, the latest recommendations from the AAP state that infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible until they reach the highest weight or height limit allowed by their seat. Today, most convertible car seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years and beyond. Remaining rear facing as long as possible allows time for the bones in your child’s back to develop and strengthen, which plays an essential role in protecting the spinal cord.

4. Incorrect Rear Facing Angle

Part of ensuring your car seat is installed correctly includes positioning it at the right angle. Fortunately, all rear-facing seats should have a built-in angle indicator or adjuster to help serve as your guide. The reason this is important is because most rear vehicle seats have been designed to slope toward the back of the car to help make adult passengers more comfortable. However, car seats are designed to be installed on a flat surface so adjustments to the angle are needed in order to compensate for this. When the angle isn’t adjusted properly, a rear-facing seat leans too far forward which can cause an infant’s airway to become restricted and prevent them from breathing.

5. Chest Clip Placement

Tightening the harness traps may seem like a no brainer, but did you know that the chest clip placement is also important? The harness chest clip should be at the center of the chest, even with your child’s armpits. The chest clip helps ensure the harness straps are in the right place and prevents the straps from sliding off the shoulders. Additionally, placement at the center of the chest means that it over their sternum. A chest clip placed lower on the body over the abdomen has the potential to cause damage to vital internal organs in the event of a collision. Too high and it could increase the risk of a neck injury.

6. Harness Strap Positioning

Most convertible car seats are designed with three sets of harness slots. The lower two sets are for the rear-facing position and the top set is for the forward-facing position. On most seats, once the seat faces forward, only the uppermost slots have the extra reinforcement necessary to keep the harness secure in a collision. A common mistake that parents make is turning the seat around without adjusting the straps. When rear-facing, the shoulder straps should come through the seat just below your child’s shoulders. When forward-facing, they should be at or just above the shoulders. Refer to your car seat’s instructions to make sure you are positioning the straps correctly.

7. Not Using a Booster Seat

When children exceed the limits of a forward-facing car seat, which is often 65 pounds or more, the AAP recommends they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until they vehicles lap and shoulder seat belt fit properly. Each child is different, but this usually does not occur until they have reached at least 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old. We know the last thing you want to do after you child outgrows a car seat is to buy another type of seat, but using a booster seat can make the difference between life and death or severe injury. In a crash, a child who’s too small for a seat belt can sustain massive internal-organ damage or head and spinal injuries, and can even be ejected.

8. Car Seat Lifespans

When you purchase a car seat, it’s important to make note of the expiration date which is usually between 5 and 10 years. These expiration dates serve to alert parents that seat may be worn down or out of date after advances in safety standards and technology.  Additionally, regardless if they are expired or not, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that car seats should be replaced after a moderate to severe crash. The severity of a crash can be subjective, but in this case, a seat should be replaced if the airbags deployed, there was visible damage to the vehicle and/or there were passengers injured. Check with your insurance company, as reimbursement for car seat replacement may be covered by your policy.

Additionally, you should register your car seat with the manufacturer and pay attention to recall notices that may require you to discontinue use ahead of its expiration date. Over the past ten years, millions of safety seats have been recalled for a variety of reasons including fault latches and flammable seat fabric.

For the reasons above, you should never purchase a used car seat since it may have been recalled or involved in a collision.

Consult Your Pediatrician

All of the dos and don’ts of safe car seat usage can be overwhelming. As a partner in your child’s health, the team at Holly Springs Pediatrics can help answer any questions you may have or provide recommendations for having your car seat inspected. To schedule an appointment, call (919) 249-4700.