The first step in car seat safety is RIGHT SEAT. What does that mean? There are many types of car seats, and it can be confusing to find the right one. The most important thing to remember is:
Proper fit and installation are far more important to your child’s safety than the price tag or pattern on the car seat.
First, it means that you select the right seat for your child – Check your car seat’s manual to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height. Also double check the expiration dateon your car seat to make sure it is still safe.
An Infant Car Seat is a rear-facing-only seat designed for newborns (we call them ‘buckets’). They can be very convenient for getting sleeping babies into and out of cars, or for securing the tiniest Ducklings in a shopping cart. Unfortunately, most babies will outgrow their bucket before it is safe for them to ride in a forward-facing seat. Your baby has outgrown her infant car seat when she reaches any ONE of these 3 points:
- The weight limit of the seat, which varies between 20 and 35 pounds – check your car seat manual.
- The height limit of the seat, which also varies – check your car seat manual.
- Your child’s head is within one inch of the top of the car seat. This is one is not common knowledge, but just as important.
When your Duckling outgrows his infant car seat, move him into a rear-facing Convertible Car Seat. Convertible car seats allow you to use one seat for both rear-facing and then forward-facing as your child grows. Read the manual carefully, and remember that children should continue to ride rear-facing as long as possible – until they reach the top height or weight limit before you move them to the forward-facing position.
An All-in-One Car Seat grows with your child from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster seat. Again, read the manual carefully and don’t move up (from rear-facing to forward-facing or from forward-facing with harness to booster seat) until your child meets the height or weight limits of your the seat.
Booster Seats raise and position your Duckling so that the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt fit properly. A booster seat keeps the lap belt from causing injury to the child’s abdomen and keeps the shoulder belt in place to give the child upper body protection. In the event of a crash, an adult seat belt that does not fit a child properly can actually cause injury rather than prevent it, because it doesn’t fit over the strong parts of the child’s body.
When to move to a seat belt – this is a decision that must be based only on whether your child is able to properly wear an adult seat belt. You wouldn’t let you child smoke because he thinks he’s old enough or because her friends are doing it (I hope). This is no different. My step-daughter, Princess, sat in a booster seat until she was 11 years old. She wasn’t happy about it (and didn’t have to at her mother’s house), but I refused to compromise her safety.
- Be tall enough to sit without slouching;
- Be able to keep his or her back against the vehicle seat; AND
- Be able to keep his or her knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat, AND
- Be able to keep his or her feet flat on the floor, AND
- The lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach; AND
- The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face, AND
Never let children put the shoulder belts under their arm or behind their backs, because it could cause severe injuries in a crash.
Car seat safety: Proper fit and installation is 3 quadrillion times more important than a pretty pattern
In yesterday’s post, I pointed out that the best way to protect your child from the #1 killer of children 1-19 years old is to put them in the right safety seat, which is properly installed, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. When used properly, child safety and booster seats are proven “life savers,” reducing the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers.
Yesterday I addressed the EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. piece of the equation. Today I want to talk about the right safety seat, which is properly installed bit.
- Right Seat: The most expensive car seat on the market will not protect your child if it is not the right size for your child or not installed properly!!!
For your child: Check your car seat’s manual to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height. Did you know your car seat has an expiration date? Make sure you double check the label on your car seat to make sure it is still safe.
For your car: Make sure your safety seat can be properly installed in your vehicle. Be sure to read both the car seat manual and car’s owner’s manual carefully and follow all installation instructions. Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us will let you take one car seat at a time out to car to test installation. Even if you opt to buy online, testing the install before buying can save you enormous time and irritation.
- Right Direction: Keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. The law usually requires that a child remain rear-facing until reaching 1 year of age AND 20 pounds, but the AAP and NHTSA recommend waiting until the child reaching the maximum height or weight of their rear-facing car seat. Children under age two are 75% less likely to be killed or suffer severe injuries in a crash if they are riding rear facing rather than forward facing. In fact, for children 1–2 years of age, facing the rear is five times safer. Rear-facing car seats are NOT a safety risk just because a child’s legs are bent at the knees or because they can touch/kick the vehicle seat.
- Inch Test: Once your car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the belt path. Can you move it more than an inch side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch at the belt path.
- Pinch Test: Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check car seat manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, slide your middle finger under the shoulder strap and pinch the strap between your thumb and index finger. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.
- Right Place: All children under 13 should ride in the back seat. The middle back seat is the safest, if the car seat can be installed properly. Never place a rear-facing car seat in a front seat equipped with airbags.
According to SafeKids.org, motor vehicle accidents are the leading killer of children 1 to 19 years old in the US. The best way to protect your child is to put them in the right safety seat, which is properly installed, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. When used properly, child safety and booster seats are proven “life savers,” reducing the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers.
Car seats are a hot-button for me. It’s a simple step, but ignoring it could literally get your child killed. I understand that Ducklings don’t like to be restrained. Believe me, I know how physically exhausting it can be to get a good install – especially on a rear-facing seat. And don’t get me started on installing a car seat in a two-door. I get that it’s a hassle to check the install and fit every time you get in the car. But we’re genuinely talking about life and death.
Full disclosure: I have ZERO patience for the reasons that parents and caregivers give for skipping this step. Some of the most common excuses in my experience:
He really hates being in a car seat, he cries the whole time. What I am supposed to do – let him cry the whole trip?
Yep, let him cry the whole trip. Ideally, you would have the opportunity to take several short rides around town *with the baby properly restrained in the car seat* to get him acclimated to riding in the seat. But that’s not always doable – particularly if you’re a foster parent who has to drive to pick up a child.
I’ve listened to a child screaming in her seat for an entire 90-minute drive – it broke my heart to let her cry, but we had to make the trip, and she had to go with us, so she had to ride in her seat. I rode where I could see her and she could see me, and I tried talking to her, soothing, singing, playing, etc, throughout the drive. But at no point did I indicate that getting out of the car seat was an option. Evidently she figured that out, because she didn’t make a peep on the way back. And hasn’t since.
I’m just driving right around my small town and I’m really careful and I only go 25 mph.
Are you really willing to bet your baby’s life that everyone else in your little small town is really careful and only going 25 mph? Or that a cow won’t dart out in front of you? (I don’t know how small your town is)
Yes, I know that cows don’t really “dart”, so we’ll let that go for now. For argument’s sake, let’s say no one in your little town drives over 20 mph. Then one day, as you’re very carefully, very slowly, driving down the main road, Miss Daisy (going in the opposite direction) swerves to dodge a squirrel and hits you head-on. No problem, right? You’re both only driving 20 mph, so it’s a minor impact, right? Except airbags can deploy when the vehicle crashes at speeds over *12 mph*. And when it does deploy, the airbag is moving at between 62 and 180+ mph. So if little Suzy is sitting on your lap (probably near eye-level with the top of the steering wheel) when that airbag deploys….
We didn’t have car seats when I was a kid, and I turned out just fine!
Ok, fair enough. Do you also let your kid eat lead paint and spend all day in chain-smoking Uncle Ned’s second-hand smoke? If your answer is yes, you win – it’s probably better if you limit your influence in the gene pool, anyway.
What other excuses have you heard for not taking the time to protect your child from the leading cause of death in children? Let me know in the comments.