Some Car Seat Safety Tips That Every Parent Should Read
Baby car seats are designed specifically to protect children riding in cars. It is their main function and the primary reason for their existence. We must remember this first and foremost when selecting a car seat to place our children in.
Above the comfort level that any one seat may have, above any beautiful design or color of padding and above any convenience features that any particular seat might be touting, you must always remember that the number one thing to find out about any baby car seat that you are thinking of buying is “how safe is it?”. After you have answered that question satisfactorily, you can then proceed to convenience, comfort and looks.
To help you put to use your new seat’s safety features effectively, we will give you some car seat safety tips that will be helpful to new parents as well as experienced ones. This article will provide you with general guidelines that, if followed, will allow the safety features built into the seat to work effectively. After all, the only way the seat can do it’s job properly and protect your child as it was designed to do, is to use it exactly as it was intended to be used.
Riding Rear Facing
To begin, it is important to know that all infants under one year old must ride facing the rear of the vehicle. Infant car seats are built specifically to be rear facing. There is some debate over how long the child should remain in this position before turning the seat around and some jurisdictions have varying laws as well, but the general guideline has been that the child must ride rear facing for the first year and until he is over 20 lbs.
More recently though, the American Academy of Pediatrics began to urge parents to keep their kids in a rear facing seat until they are two years old. The longer the child can be kept rear-facing, the safer he will be because a rear facing child seat helps to reduce whiplash in the event of an accident, but you should not exceed the height and weight requirements of the seat that you are using, so be sure to always know what the maximum height and weight is for your particular model. These figures can be looked up in the product manual or by contacting the manufacturer directly.
Convertible Car Seats As A Way Of Keeping The Child Rear Facing
A tip that can save you money and help you follow the previous principle of keeping the child facing the rear as long as possible is to look into buying a convertible car seat. These are seats that can be used in the rear facing position for infants and later on they can be turned around to face the front of the vehicle once the child is big enough to do so. These convertible car seats usually have a greater weight and height limit as it will have to accomodate a larger child facing the front. They can accomodate small infants comfortably with the use of a removable infant insert that will hold the young baby in place securely and can be removed as he outgrows it.
So, by selecting one of these seats you can keep your baby in the rear facing position even if he would have already outgrown typical rear facing seats. Two of the models we reviewed on this site, the Britax Marathon 70 and the Britax Boulevard 70 have some of the largest capacities in their class. Each can carry a child up to 70 lbs. in weight. Always make sure that the baby’s head does not stick out above the top of the car seat.
When To Move Them To A Booster Seat
Usually, once the baby reaches 40 lbs., he can be moved to a booster seat (The belt positioning type as shown in the picture). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping the child in the booster until they are at least 4 foot 9 inches tall and are between 8-12 years old. It is important to use your vehicle’s seat belt any time the child is in the booster seat if the booster does not provide it’s own seat belt.
The car’s seat belt should go over the child’s shoulder and across his body. It must be a three point belt that goes across the lap, not the stomach, as well. Make sure that the seat belt does not go across the child’s neck. If it does, then the seat belt is positioned too high and would need to be adjusted. Luckily, most modern cars have adjustable three point seat belts in the rear seat. In the event that your car does not, you may want to consider a high back booster seat for your child that comes with a harness to hold him in place. As a matter of fact, booster seats with a harness have a 5 point attachment rather than the 3 points of a car seat belt and are inherently safer. Therefore, the longer you can keep your child in a five point harness, the safer he will be.
Keep Them In The Rear Seat
Along with these guidelines, it is important to note that the safest place for a vehicle occupant is usually in the back seat. That is why babies are required to ride in the rear seat of the vehicle and why you should keep your child riding in the rear as long as possible, also. The NHTSA states that all children under 13 should ride in the back seat.
Read The Manual
You should make sure to always read the car seat’s manual first. This will teach you how to properly install the model that you have selected and will also tell you how to safely operate the seat. Some thing you should look for in the manual is the maximum angle of recline that the seat can have so that the baby’s head is properly protected as well as the seat’s model number and the company’s address and telephone number so that you can order replacement parts if anything gets broken. If you lose the manual or are buying a used car seat whose manual is missing, note that you can call the manufacturer and usually get a free copy of the manual mailed to you. Keep it in a safe place that is readily accessible, generally the seat will have a clip on the bottom to attach the manual to.
Make Sure The Seat Has Never Been In An Accident
As a side note on the topic of used car seats, always carefully inspect a used seat that you are considering buying to make sure that it has not been in an accident. Many modern baby car seats, such as the Britax models that have the “Safety Cell” feature, are designed to compress in an accident and absorb a great deal of the energy of the crash. Once involved in an accident, the seat may have deformed and will not provide the same level of protection, so you should never consider buying a used car seat that has been in an accident.
Untangle The Straps
Back to general safety tips, one of the most important things to check in a car seat, and one that parents overlook often, is to make sure that the harness straps are straight and not tangled or knotted up. They should flow smoothly through the slots in the seat and be firmly pressed against the child but not too tight. This will permit the harness to carry out it’s function properly. If the harness is loose, then the child will not be held in place in the event of an accident, so make sure that you cannot pull the harness out without loosening the tensors first.
When securing the car seat onto your vehicle, ensure that the seat does not move around from side to side. If it does, then you did not install it properly and the seat will not protect the baby in an accident as it should, especially in a side collission. So if you have followed the installation instructions and are not satified with the tightness of the seat connection your car, please take it to a car seat safety inspection station, usually a fire station, and have someone who is trained install the seat for you. But make sure you ask them to show you how to install it yourself as you will undoubtably have to remove and reinstall the seat sooner or later.
Use The LATCH
Also, when installing the seat onto your vehicle, use the vehicle’s LATCH system preferrably, as it has been designed specifically to hold a child car seat. The LATCH system is required by law as of September 1, 2002 on all vehicles under 8,500 lbs. They are the safest form of attachment to the vehicle and should be used anytime they are available. If you are not familiar with the location of the LATCH anchors in your vehicle, consult your car’s manual. The picture on the left shows the typical location of the LATCH anchors on most vehicles. Please note that the anchors are metal hooks located between the vehicle’s seat cushions and sometimes they are difficult to reach as they require you fishing for them between the cushions in a tight space. If you have an older vehicle that does not have the LATCH system, then you will have to use the car’s safety belts to hold the car seat in place. You should not use both the car’s seat belts and LATCH at the same time.
Check The Expiration Date
Lastly, check to see your car seat’s expiration date and never use a seat that has passed it’s expiration date. Baby car seats, like automobile tires, have an expiration date and using them past that date can compromise their safety. This is even more important to keep in mind when purchasing a used car seat so be aware of it as you do your search.
We hope to have provided you with some good tips that you can use to ensure that you maintain the safety aspects of your child car seat as it was designed. Hopefully, you learned some new ones that you did not know before and begin to implement them, as following these tips will make your child’s travels in his car seat safer. So that’s all we have in this guide, but it is definitely not all the safety tips that you can follow with respect to the proper use of a baby car seat, so if you have any other tips that you would like to share, please let us know.
NHTSA: Car Seat Recommendations
American Academy of Pediatrics: Recommendations on Car Seats
ConsumerReports.org: Child Safety LATCH
Safekids.org: Car Seat Safety
Parents.com: Car Seat Safety Tips