You can keep your children safer from harm by having properly installed restraints and correctly using your car and booster seats in your car. Various studies have shown that even for parents who are on their third or even fourth child, car seat use and installation is one of the few things that people tend not to get better at. Dr. Alisa Baer, also known as The Car Seat Lady, shares her top 10 Car Seat Safety Tips.
1. Keep the car seat straps snug.
“Most kids are riding around with straps that are too loose," Baer says. Properly secured snug straps, despite protests from some kids, don't cause pain. “If you're going to jump out of an airplane with a parachute, you're not going to think, 'Oh, it's snug! Let me loosen it!'" she explains.
2. Keep kids rear-facing for as long as possible.
Once your child outgrows an infant car seat — which is always rear-facing — they'll move into a convertible car seat. Those can be used either in a rear- or forward-facing position. But “can" and “should" are two different things. Baer says you should always keep your child rear-facing until age 2 — and ideally longer, until they reach the rear-facing limits of the car seat. That shouldn't happen until your kiddo is at least 2 years old, but even then, if they're below the maximums for the car seat, don't flip them around!
3. When your child becomes too big to rear-face, keep them as safe as possible when forward-facing.
“The goal now that we've turned your child forward, which makes their brain and spine less safe than when they were rear-facing," says Baer, “is to keep them as safe as we can." You can accomplish that by using the tether strap that comes on every single forward-facing car seat sold in the U.S. The tether secures to a top tether anchor point in your vehicle. This is where you'll need to break out that vehicle owner's manual to find where they're located.
“Forward-facing protection is greatly enhanced by the tether," Baer explains. “It decreases how far the child's head moves in a crash by at least four to six inches. When you factor in that most seats are too loose, that can mean a difference of 12 inches or more." Because you only want your child's head to hit air in a crash and not the seat in front of them, the tethers on forward-facing car seats are vital.
4. Don't start using a booster seat too soon — and don't stop using a booster seat too soon.
For a child to safely use a booster seat, they must be at least 4 years old, weigh 40 pounds, and be mature enough to sit properly in the booster — “no slouching, no leaning over, and no playing with the seat belt." Because of that, Baer says that most kids are generally around 6 years old before they're ready for a booster seat.
5. Make sure everyone in the car is buckled up.
Besides keeping all of your adult passengers alive, ensuring everyone in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt means they can't become human torpedoes in the event of an accident. “Studies show that if an adult rides in the back without a buckle, the other people in the car are up to three times more likely to die in the same crash because the unbuckled adult is now a human missile," says Baer.
6. After you install your child's car seat, have it checked by a trained technician.
While many people think they can swing by a fire or police department to accomplish this, “not even 50% of them have someone trained" to do that, Baer says.
Instead, go to seatcheck.org, where you can enter your zip code to find a trained technician near you.
7. Remember that the center seat is generally the safest spot in the car for kids.
Children in the center seat won't take a direct hit in an accident, and there's less to hit their head on when they're in a forward-facing car seat. If you have more than one child, remember that your oldest is typically the least protected. “A newborn, for example, is more protected because they're rear-facing," Baer explains. The middle seat often doesn't have the lower anchors, which means you'll need to use the seat belt to secure the car seat (or if your child is in a booster, they'll be using the belt anyway). And remember: If your kiddo is in a forward-facing car seat, use the tether!
8. Don't text or talk on the phone while driving.
“We're not going to make a dent in fatalities until we decrease distracted driving," Baer notes. “We have an obligation to make sure not only our children, but everyone else's children are safe on the road."
9. Car seats expire!
It's not that the car seat industry is out to get your hard-earned cash, Baer says, but rather that "car seats are made of plastic, and plastic is a material that gets brittle with age. You need a seat to be strong enough to withstand an crash." Different car seats have different expiration dates, although they typically last six to eight years. Be sure you know when yours needs replacing — particularly if you're using it with more than one child.
10. If you've been in an accident, there's a good chance that your car seat needs replacing.
This holds true regardless of whether your child was in the car seat when the accident occurred because even an empty seat still absorbs some of the force of the crash. Baer says most manufacturers advise that the car seat requires replacement no matter the severity of the crash, but some seats have a “minor crash protocol." You can check her website to learn more.
The top three most common mistakes Baer sees are car seats that are too loose in the car, kids that are too loose in the car seats, and children who are graduated too soon (from rear-facing to forward facing or car seat to booster, for example). With some effort and care, we can all avoid those mistakes and more. It's a lot of info to absorb, but we're talking about our kids' lives.
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Image Source: The Car Seat Lady