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We all want the best seat that we can afford for our kids. Many of us read review after review to choose just the right seat. But what happens when you finally find the right seat for you? Are you sure you’re using that safe car seat correctly? Statistics show that there is a high probability that you may not be.
The safest car seat on the market isn’t a brand name but the seat the fits your vehicle, child, and is being used correctly.
About 80% of car seats are either installed or being used incorrectly, or both. This is an alarming statistic and we need to do everything we can to change it. Your child’s life could depend on it.
Always read your owner’s manual first and install the car seat per the directions for that particular seat. Even if you think you know how to install a seat, read the instruction manual. If you still have questions, there are car seat installation videos on YouTube.
- Be sure that your seat is set to the proper angle per the manufacturer’s recommendation. You can use a rolled up receiving blanket or pool noodle to achieve the correct angle if necessary.
- The base of the seat should not move more than one inch once installed.
- Never install an infant seat forward facing. This seems like a no-brainer, but I have seen this enough times to feel it necessary to add it.
- While using an infant seat, there is some debate about whether you can leave the carrying handle up or down. Some manufacturers state that it is okay to leave it up. Be sure to read the manual for your particular car seat.
Rear Facing or Forward Facing
The old recommendation of not turning your baby until they are one year old and 20 pounds is no longer recommended. (I have seen babies younger than one year already forward facing and that is a definite no-no). The current recommendation is to keep your child rear-facing until they are two years old. This, however, is the bare minimum. Ultimately you should keep your child rear facing until they reach the weight and/or height limit of their seat. Turning your child forward facing is not a developmental milestone and should not be treated as such.
Many seats on the market today have a rear facing limit of 40 pounds and the Diono Radian has a limit of 45 pounds. The height limit isn’t as cut and dry. As with infant seats your child’s head must be less than one inch from the top of the shell. If this happens before your child reaches the weight limit you must turn them around or replace the seat with one that can accommodate your child’s size.
- What about their legs? It’s okay for their feet to touch the back seat. It’s even okay for them to sit cross-legged, frog legged, or hang their feet over the sides. It is better for your child to suffer a broken leg than a broken neck in a crash.
- I want my baby to be able to see out the window. They can see out the side window while rear facing
Using the Car Seat Correctly
Okay, so you have your super safe car seat installed correctly and it is forward or rear facing based on the current recommendation. Great! But it doesn’t end there. This is where most of the mistakes happen when it comes to using a car seat. If you are doing any of these things then your baby may not be safe in the event of a crash.
- The incorrect harness slot is being used.
- While rear facing the harness straps should be at or below your child’s shoulders.
- While forward facing the harness straps should be at or above the child’s shoulders. Note: refer to your manual as many car seat manufacturers recommend using only the top slot while forward facing.
- Chest clip is too low. The chest clip keeps the harness straps on your baby’s shoulders in the event of a crash. If the clip is too low then the straps can slide of your baby’s shoulders and they could come out of the seat. The chest clip needs to be at armpit level.
- Straps are not tight enough. Once your baby is strapped in, try to pinch the harness from top to bottom at the baby’s shoulder. If you’re unable to pinch any excess fabric then your harness straps are tight enough
- Heavy coats in the winter. Do not put your baby in his/her car seat with a heavy coat or snowsuit on. The coat can compress in a crash and cause the straps to loosen. Instead put your baby in a warm, lightweight fleece and carry them out to the car wrapped in a blanket. Once strapped in the car seat you can put the blanket over the baby or put their jacket on backwards over the harness straps.
- Using after-market accessories. Do not use any after market accessories in your seat. This includes neck supports, seat covers, “piddle pads“, and seat protectors. This will void the warranty of your seat and could cause injury in an accident. If it isn’t made specifically for your seat by the manufacturer, it’s not okay to use.
- Baby is too tall for an infant seat. If you are using an infant seat it is time to switch to a convertible seat when your baby’s head is less than 1″ from the top of the seat regardless of the height and weight limit of your seat. Many infant seats now go to 35 pounds but my son is two and is still only 29 pounds. He was too tall for his infant seat when he was about 9 months old and he is not a tall kid. He was in the 50th percentile for height.
Is your child old enough for a booster seat?
Booster seats shouldn’t be used until a child is at least four years old and 40 pounds. Many state laws regarding boosters are way too low. Please keep your children safe and in either a high back or belt-positioning booster until they are approximately 4’9″. Seat belts are meant to fit adults, not children. A seat belt is supposed to sit on the shoulder, but on a child that is under about 4’9″ it may sit on the neck which could cause serious injury in an accident.
For more information on proper car seat use, please visit the following sites.
- “4 out of 5 seats” – http://www.nsc.org
- “child in seat belt” – aka Kath via flickr