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A study performed at Doernbecher Hospital at the Oregon Health and Science University found that 93% of new parents made at least one critical error when installing their baby’s car seat or buckling them into it. Do you want to wait until you’re in a car accident to find out if you’re one of the 93%? This article is not at all meant to place blame or to accuse, but to shed light on mistakes that many people make that could be posing a serious threat to their child’s safety.
There are, unfortunately a lot of mistakes being made with car seats, but here you’ll read the three most common car seat mistakes. These mistakes are very easy to make, but they are also very simple to correct. Every answer for how to correctly install and use your car seat is within the seat’s manual. The most important thing to do to avoid a deadly mistake is to thoroughly read the manual and follow the instructions within. Keep reading to find out the top three common but deadly car seat mistakes. By reading this article, you may be able to discover ways you can keep your child safer.
1. Improper installation
Your car seat’s manual is your best friend here. Every seat is different, but there are several general mistakes people make in regards to installation. The seat should be tightly installed; it should not be able to move more than an inch in any direction at the belt path. You should never use both the seatbelt and the LATCH system at the same time, only use one or the other. The top tether should only be used rear facing unless otherwise indicated in your seat’s manual. No aftermarket products should be used with a car seat as they have not been tested for safety, this includes seat protectors, hanging toys, strap covers, etc. Anything that doesn’t come with the seat should not be attached to the seat while it is installed.
2. Not buckling correctly
The biggest mistakes people make with car seats are in how they buckle their child in – not making the straps tight enough and not putting the chest clip in the right spot. In the event of a crash, loose straps could allow enough movement for the child to be seriously injured or even ejected from the car seat. Car seat straps should be snug as a hug. To ensure that they are tight enough, pinch the straps over the child’s shoulders. Your fingers should glide along the strap, unable to grasp any webbing between your fingers. There is a reason it is called a chest clip, the safest location for it is at chest level where the sternum is strong. Many parents tend to put the chest clip too low over the belly but this is very dangerous! In the event of a crash, the clip would be over soft tissue where it could cause damage to internal organs. Another important part of buckling correctly is not putting anything aside from clothing between the baby and the seat or straps – this means thick blankets and thick coats. Winter coats should never be worn in the car seat as they can compress leading to loose straps which could leave the child at risk of injury or ejection.
3. Moving up too soon
Another big mistake a lot of parents make is moving their child up to the next car seat stage too early. The American Academy of Pediatrics has officially changed their recommendations; they are now agreeing with car seat experts that age two is the bare minimum to safely turn children forward facing. But that is the minimum; best practice is to keep children rear facing until they outgrow the limits of their seat and preferably to 4-5 years old. Up until that age, children’s spines are not fully fused and it can be extremely dangerous for them to be forward facing. Best practice for moving up to a booster goes by maturity – children should be able to sit up properly and keep the seatbelt where it should be for the entire ride. This could be anywhere from the age of 4 to 8. The best way to figure out when a child is ready to be out of a booster is the 5-step test. Does the child sit all the way back in the seat? Do their knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat? Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm? Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs? Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, the child is ready to graduate out of the booster, most kids are 10-12 before they can pass this test.
As you can see, the mistakes commonly made with car seats are easy to make, but simple to fix. By following the directions in your car seat’s manual and keeping up current recommendations, you can be sure your child is safe on every ride in the car.