When you first hear this statistic, it can be hard to believe that so many children are riding around in car seats that are being used incorrectly. These seats are so important to making sure a child avoids injury or death in the event of an accident, that it seems like no responsible caregiver would make a mistake that could leave their child less safe. The reality is that it is very easy to overlook a step in the process–either by leaving a strap too loose, twisting a belt buckle, or using a seat that is too small for the child.
This past Saturday, we took part in a car seat check with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center at the Harrison Fire Department. We had a great response from the community, and had several families stop by to go over their car seats with certified child passenger safety technicians. Here are a few of the installation and usage errors we found that you may or may not be aware of:
- Incorrect seat for the child’s age/weight. Car seat manufacturers put their car seats through rigorous crash testing to make sure they are up to safety standards. Each seat is designed for use within a specific weight and height range. If a child is too heavy, the safety straps might not be able to hold them in place in an accident. If a child is too tall, their head might stick out of the protective shell provided by the car seat, leaving them exposed to injury. Several families who stopped by were using seats that their children were either too large or to small to safely use, and one child was riding in a booster seat well before they were legally allowed. Make sure you check the car seat’s manual to ensure your seat fits your child!
- Car seat is expired. This often comes as a surprise, but most car seats expire after six years from the date of manufacture. While certain car seats may last longer, it is important to check labels and owners manual, or call the manufacturer directly, to make sure a seat is still safe to use (If you need a new one, make sure you’re signed up for our car seat giveaway!).
- Car seat installed loosely. To keep the child safe in an accident, the car seat helps keep them in place and reduce their movement during a collision. To properly perform that job, a car seat must be installed tightly with little wiggle room. To test your seat, grip it where the seat belt passes through it (or where the anchors are located) and try to move it back and forth and side to side with moderate force. If the seat moves more than an inch in either direction, try to tighten the restraints further.
- Harnesses too low/too high for the child. Depending on the direction of the car seat, you may need to raise or lower their harness. In a rear-facing car seat, the harness straps should be at or below a child’s shoulders to keep them from sliding up the back of a seat in a collision. In a forward-facing car seat, the belts should be at or above their shoulders to hold them firmly in place. Check to make sure you are using the right harness slots for the direction of your car seat, and that you are unable to pinch any slack in the straps once your child is in place!
As we conducted these seat checks, parents were always surprised to find they had been using their car seats incorrectly. With everything else they have on their minds, caregivers are often simply unaware of weight limits, expiration dates, and specific installation instructions. But with vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for children under 13, child passenger safety is simply too important to ignore.
Cars are designed to be as safe as possible, and crash-tested rigorously to make sure they can protect their occupants. However, these standards are designed for adult passengers. Children are too small and too vulnerable to be safe in an accident without further protection. Make sure you have checked your vehicle and your car seat manuals to determine that you are using the right seat for your child’s age, height, weight, and level of development, and that you have registered your seat to be notified of any recalls. If you have any questions, you can stop by any car seat fitting location to have you seats check by certified technicians.