How many car accidents have affected your commute in your lifetime? How many near misses have you had? Car collisions happen all the time. Traffic accidents claim over a million lives and injure up to 50 million people worldwide every year. And they’re still a leading cause of injury and death among our children.
If you believe it won’t happen to you, well, hopefully not, but good parents are prepared parents.
Simply having a car seat is not enough. Unfortunately, an estimated 80 percent of parents and caregivers (US and Canada, percentage varies country to country) think it does. That means an overwhelming majority of families are riding around thinking their children are safe when in fact they are as vulnerable as the 1 million to 50 million (annual) accident victims mentioned above.
Good news is you are reading this and can do something about it. Here’s how.
Certified child passenger safety technician and owner of Baby Car Seat Installers, Mohammad Bhorat, understands Tuned In Parents’ philosophy on sharing knowledge for the ongoing benefit of parents and children across the world. Therefore, today he shares with us 20 vital car seat tips that, when applied, will put you among the 20 percent of parents who get it, whose children are riding safely. It is our hope you will share this knowledge, too, so more families will have access, and together we can help keep more kids safe. That is, after all, what this is all about.
20 Essential Car Seat Tips to Keep Your Child Safe
1. Installing a car seat correctly AND using it properly is not as easy as it seems. Most get it wrong. Find your local certified car seat inspection services for help and ensure your child is riding safely.
2. Always use the correct child restraint system according to your child’s height and weight, without exception.
3. Note down your child’s safety seat expiry date. It’s easiest to write it on a blank label or piece of masking tape and place it where it’s visible on the seat itself. Then replace the seat once it has expired.
4. Never use a damaged car seat. This includes cracks, discoloration, missing parts, recalled parts or entire seats, distressed harness straps, car seats that have been in accidents, even over washed car seats (strong detergents can weaken the materials of the seat, possibly compromising its function under the pressure of a collision).
5. Do not accept a used car seat as a gift or buy one if (a) it is damaged or distressed in any way; (b) it is expired; (c) it is not certified for use in your country (e.g., U.S. car seats are not viable for usage in Canada).
6. Rushing your child into a booster seat is tempting to meet that milestone, but it’s not worth it if your child is safer remaining in a car seat with a higher weight/height limit. Five-point harness convertible car seats offer far better protection for children still in transition. Read our booster seat tips to find out if your child’s ready for a booster seat.
7. Be careful of facing your child’s seat forward too early. Children are up to five times safer in a rear-facing car seat that supports their weight/height up to age four. You may be concerned about “squished legs,” but it’s perfectly safe. Kids love to stretch them, fold them, and dangle them.
8. Hold off allowing your child to use a seat belt alone until (s)he is at least 4’9″ (145 cm) tall and meets all of the criteria of this five-step seat belt test:
- keeps back against vehicle seat;
- knees bend at edge of seat;
- lap belt across thighs, not abdomen;
- shoulder belt between shoulder and neck, not on neck;
- child mature enough to remain still during ride.
9. Never underestimate the importance of your child’s harness straps. Keep them straight (no twists or kinks) and snug at all times (if you can pinch an inch between your fingers, they’re way too loose)!
10. Make sure everyone who drives your child is equipped with the proper safety seat and knows how to use it, no matter how short the ride. It’s recommended to have a spare seat for such occasions, and it’s useful for visiting family and/or giving your child’s friends a ride when necessary. No child should ever ride unprotected. It’s illegal and incredibly dangerous.
11. Remember to adjust the car seat harness straps as your child grows. Doctors’ visits, when height and weight are measured, are convenient times to do so. For rear-facing seats, the straps should be at or just below the shoulders; and for forward-facing seats, they should be at or just above the shoulders.
12. Remember car seats and bulky winter clothing, baby swaddling, blankets, etc., do not go together. Never put anything that can compress under the force of a collision between your child and the harness straps meant to keep him/her safely in the seat. You can, however, strap your child in the seat first, then place a coat or blanket on top for warmth.
13. Always keep the chest clip fastened on your child’s chest (or armpit level), not below. Failing to do so can leave dangerous wiggle room in the event of an accident.
14. Be careful not to be among the many that misuse the lock clip. The lock clip is meant to lock seat belts into the locking position (for those that won’t lock into place automatically) when installing a car seat via seat belt. Using it incorrectly will undermine the whole installation and, hence, your child’s safety. Read the car seat manual and have a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) inspect your installation, or have a CPST install the seat.
15. Regardless of how brief the ride, never hold a child in your lap while the vehicle is in motion. It sounds like common sense, yet people still do it not understanding that the force of a collision will render it impossible to protect the child.
16. To protect your child’s head and neck, use the top tether strap. Not all rear-facing seat models still require the top tether, so refer to your manual.
17. Despite pressure from little ones wanting to ride up front, keep children under 13 years of age in the back seat where they are safer and farther away from active airbags.
18. If you have children that can pass the above-mentioned five-step seat belt test, then only allow one child per seat belt.
19. If your child’s car seat seems loose or jostles, test that it does not move more than 1 inch along the belt path. If it does, tighten it. If it won’t tighten, check out this easy DIY parenting tip for super secure car seats.
20. When you’re expecting and you’re preparing for Baby’s arrival, plan to have the car seat installed and inspected well before the due date. Not only do you want Baby’s first ride to be safe and smooth, but some hospitals may not release newborns until their car seats are installed correctly.
When we know better, we do better.
If someone shares car seat safety information with you, accept it for what it is: a kind gesture that could save your child’s life. Then, pay it forward. You never know how many lives you may impact because of it. Drive safely!