Wrestling a car seat into its proper position is easier said than done, as countless parents can attest. It’s no wonder that questions and anxiety can quickly mount when searching for, installing and putting a car seat to use.
“There is a lot for parents to consider and process when it comes to car seat safety. It can be really daunting,” said Erin Basile, RN, who teaches the Safe Riders Car Seat Distribution and Education Program at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and is the mother of 7- and 9-year-old daughters.
“We want parents to find the right car seat, properly install that seat and secure their child, and then consult a certified safety seat technician to verify the correct installation and use.”
Car seat safety is worth fretting over. Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children 15 years and younger in Texas. More than one-third of children 12 or younger who died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2015 were unrestrained. Hundreds of thousands more were injured.
Many of these injuries and deaths are preventable.
Answers to frequently asked car seat safety questions and knowledge of best practices can help families establish a good foundation for car seat safety.
How do I know what car seat to choose?
Finding the right car seat for your family primarily depends on the height, weight and age of your child. The wide range of features and price parents encounter when shopping for a car seat is more about ease of use than safety.
“All car seats available for purchase already meet national safety standards,” Basile said. “So it really comes down to cost and convenience for a lot of families.”
The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration site is a great catch-all for information and includes a Car Seat Finder search tool. There are also programs like Safe Riders, where qualifying parents can receive a new safety seat and instruction on how to use it.
What about used car seats?
“Never use a car seat you do not know the history of,” Basile said.
The safety of a used car seat could be compromised by a previous collision. It also might be out of date, so check the expiration date on the side of the car seat. An expired car seat may fall short of the most recent safety standards.
The instructions say I should attach the seat to what? What clasp? Do I use the clasp or the belt?
Take the time to read the car seat safety manual and your vehicle’s owner’s manual. If a hard copy of your vehicle’s owner’s manual is not available, most manufacturers have posted online manuals for each year’s models from the 1990s until present. Both manuals may have information about when to use the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system or a seatbelt to secure the car seat.
“Many parents don’t keep the owner’s manual for the car seat and very few read the vehicle owner’s manual,” Basile said. “We encourage people to keep and read both because they are so useful.”
Which way should the car seat face? Is this too tight? My child is growing. Now what?
Get to know best practices for car seat safety. Restraints are meant to be snug and can help mitigate risk of injury from the violent movement caused by a motor vehicle collision. There shouldn’t be any slack.
In addition, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends children remain rear-facing until at least two years of age. Other countries recommend keeping children rear-facing even longer.
“Keep children rear-facing as long as you can,” Basile said. “Overall, it’s safer, even if the child’s legs touch the back rest of the seat or they have to bend their legs—doing so doesn’t put their safety at risk.”
Remember, children should always sit in the back seat, at least until they are 13. A car seat should never be placed in front of an airbag. When children outgrow their car seats, they should remain in a booster seat until big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. The state of Texas requires children remain in a car seat or booster until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall.
How do I know I did this right?
Regardless of whether they are confident in the installation or not, parents should consult professional certified technicians who can verify and help correct any missed steps, oftentimes for free with an appointment.
“We always recommend parents take their children with them to a safety seat inspection site where a certified professional can check installation and placement of their child,” Basile said.
Parents can find a list of nearby car seat inspection sites through NHTSA.gov.
Lastly, parents should take the time to register the car seat with the manufacturer to ensure they receive information on any product recalls or safety notices.
For more information about the Safe Riders Child Safety Seat Distribution and Education Program at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, visit https://trauma.memorialhermann.org/safety-tips/safe-riders-program/ or call toll-free at 1-800-252-8255.