Last year for National Child Passenger Safety Week, I featured a series of posts on the various stages of car seats. I will be doing similar posts this year; a lot of the content is the same as it’s always good for a refresher, but some content is updated to reflect changes over the last year. National Child Passenger Safety Week is September 16 – 22, 2012, and you can learn more about it NHTSA’s website here.
After the birth of my first daughter, I really started researching child car seats and safety in the car. I found there was a ton of information out there, most I had never heard of before. It motivated me to research what I could and share the information with other parents. I took the week-long class and became a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) in October 2008. In April of 2010, I became a Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor (CPST-I).
Last year, Safe Kids USA released a new study. They analyzed data from 79,000 child car seat checklist forms that were completed by Safe Kids coalitions at child safety seat checks around the country for the years 2009-2010. Previously, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has done research that shows three out of four child safety seats are improperly installed. The new Safe Kids research says that this percentage has improved slightly, but there is still room for more improvement considering car crashes remain as the leading cause of death in children ages 1 - 12.
Today, I would like to share some general car seat information and over the next few days, I will share specific information for each of NHTSA’s Four Steps for Kids, rear-facing, forward-facing, booster, and seat belt. At the end of the week, Saturday, September 22, it is National Seat Check Saturday. Safe Kids coalitions and child passenger safety technicians around the country will be holding events for parents to bring their vehicles to get child car seats checked. To find out if there is a location near you that is participating this Saturday, check here or your with your local Safe Kids coalition.
Here are some questions you need to ask yourself about your child(ren)’s child car seats.
Are you using a child car seat every time you are in the car, even if it is a 2 minute trip down the street? Everyone in the car should be buckled up, every time the car is moving, even in a parking lot. Here is a video from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute showing the difference between a properly restrained child and a child not restrained at all at 30 mph. The restrained child would most likely walk away with minimal injuries, while the unrestrained child would suffer life threatening injuries.
Are you using the proper car seat based on your child’s age, height, and weight? Using a proper child car seat greatly reduces the risk of injury or death in a vehicle crash. In general, children should ride in a rear facing seat until at least the age of 2, then ride in a forward facing harnessed seat until they outgrow the seat by height and weight, then move to a booster seat until they can pass the 5 step test. Don’t be in a rush to move your child to the next type of seat or to just the seat belt alone.
Is the seat installed correctly? Before you install any child car seat, you need to read the manual that came with that seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. Both provide vital information on how the child car seat is to be used in the vehicle and where to place it. When a child car seat is properly installed, it should not move more than one inch front to back or side to side when checked at the belt path only. You should use either the vehicle’s seat belt or LATCH system to secure the child car seat, not both, unless approved by BOTH the vehicle and child car seat manufacturer. If you use the seat belt, make sure you know how it locks to keep the child car seat in place.
Are you using the harness or seat belt correctly? On a harnessed seat, the harness should be at or below the shoulders for rear facing, then at or above the shoulders for forward facing. You also need to make sure the harness is tight enough using the pinch test. You should not be able to pinch any of the harness strap at their shoulders, your fingers should slide off. In a booster seat, you need to make sure the lap portion of the seat belt goes over the pelvic bone or upper thighs, not up on their abdomen. Then, the shoulder portion should not be falling off the shoulder or digging into the neck.
Is your child riding in the back seat? All children under 13 should ride in the back seat.
Do you have any loose items in the car? Any loose items in a vehicle, such as toys, purses, laptop bags or umbrellas can become dangerous projectiles in a crash or sudden stop and cause severe injury to a child, other passengers or the driver. Make sure to secure loose items and provide children with only soft toys to play with in a vehicle.
Is your child’s car seat expired? Most car seats expire 6 years from date of manufacture. Few others expire 7 or 8 years from date of manufacture. Check your owner’s manual or stampings on the car seat to see when your child’s car seat expires.
Is the integrity of your car seat questionable? First, where did you purchase your child’s car seat? If you purchased it second-hand or found it discarded, you should purchase a new seat. Why? There is no way to know if it is expired, has been recalled, was ever misused (i.e. harness straps put in the washer) or involved in an accident. Second, if you were involved in an accident, the car seat most likely needs to be replaced. Check your owner’s manual or with the car seat manufacturer to see what their replacement requirements are. At-fault insurance should pay for replacement. For more on this topic, see this article.
Is your child over-bundled? Fluffy coats or baby buntings can compress greatly in an accident, making the harness too loose on the child, putting them at risk for ejection from the seat. Put a blanket on them, put the coat on backwards after they are buckled in, use a cover on infant seats that goes over the whole seat (looks like a shower cap, not a bunting bag that goes in the seat), or a product like the Car Seat Poncho.
Are you using after market products? Almost all car seat manuals include a warning statement about not using products that didn’t come with the seat, things like head supports, harness strap covers, bunting bags, etc. These items may cause extra space around your child or compress differently in an accident then how the seat was initially tested. Yes, the package says it is crash tested, but it may not have been tested with your specific seat, so you don’t really know how it will interact with your seat in accident.
Do you know the child restraint laws in your state? Most notably, there were some changes to the law in Arizona. The previous stated that children need to be in a child restraint until the age of 5. The new law, which took effect on August 2, now adds that children between the age of 5 and 7, that are under a height of 4’10″, will need to be in a child restraint. Please note, in most cases, the law is the bare minimum requirement, best practice suggestions are different, and I will discuss those more throughout the week.