As parents, we want to keep our kids safe. Sadly, thousands of children sustain injuries or die in car accidents each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are the leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 13.
Car seats can drastically reduce this number, but only if they’re used properly. Here are a few car seat tips to keep your child safe on your next road trip, whether that’s across the country to visit grandma, or across town to the grocery store.
Select your car seat carefully.
There are three main types of car seats, rear-facing, forward-facing and booster seats. NHTSA recommends keeping your child in a rear-facing car seat up to age 3 or as long as possible, using the car seat manufacturer’s height and weight limits as your guide.
Once your child exceeds either the height OR weight limits listed in the car seat manufacturer’s guidelines, it’s time to move your child up to the next type of carseat. Car seat choices are staggering, ranging from single seat options to convertible, or 3-in-1 seat systems that grow with your child through all their vehicle safety needs.
Know the difference between different types of car seats and what type of car seat is recommended for your child’s age and weight.
Know how to fasten your child in the car seat.
Until your child is ready for the adult lap and shoulder strap, either alone or with a booster seat, a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat with 5-point harness is the safest. This harness secures your child at the shoulders and hips and latches between the legs. In addition, a harness clip secures the harness straps in place at the armpit level.
A harness that is too tight can be just as dangerous as one that is too loose. To check to see if your child’s harness straps are fitted correctly, do the “pinch test.”
Buckle your child in their car seat and tighten the harness, sliding the harness clip so that it is level with your child’s armpits. Pinch the harness straps at your child’s shoulders. If you can pinch any strap webbing, the harness is too loose and needs to be adjusted. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any webbing, making sure you don’t tighten too much. The harness should be snug without leaving marks on your child.
Once your child outgrows their car seat, use a booster seat with the car’s lap and shoulder straps. Fit shoulder straps across the chest and shoulder, not across the face or neck. The lap belt should fit snugly across the hips or uppermost thighs.
Read your car seat manual to ensure that your child is strapped in properly.
Use your car seat consistently.
You might think, “I’m just running to the store, I don’t need to buckle the kids in,” but do you know that studies claim that 52% of accidents happen within five miles of home?
Know that you might have to replace car seats BEFORE your child outgrows them.
Car seats help keep your child safe, but several factors can affect the overall safety of a car seat.
A moderate to severe crash can put strain on a car seat and weaken it. If your vehicle has been in an accident, protect your little one from further harm. Purchase a new seat.
According to car seat manufacturers, car seats expire within five to nine years of the date they were manufactured. Resist the temptation to save money and purchase a new car seat for your child by the expiration date.
For those two reasons, it is not advisable to purchase a used car seat since you most likely won’t know if the car seat has been damaged in an accident or if it is past its expiration date. Don’t chance your child’s safety, purchase a new seat.
If you cannot afford a new car seat, there are several resources that might be able to help. Check with your local hospitals, women’s shelters, churches, social services, and police and fire stations to see if they can provide a new or low-cost car seat for you.
Understand your state law.
Car seat laws vary from state to state. Know your state’s laws regarding rear-facing, forward-facing and booster seat requirements.
Finally, know how to properly install your child’s car seat.
Purchasing a car seat is a big decision. You want a car seat that has good safety ratings and one that will grow with your child. But it doesn’t matter how well the car seat performs in an accident if you don’t know how to install it properly in your vehicle. Do you know that car seat installation is not standard across the board?
Even the best rated car seat on the market will fail if it’s not installed properly and securely. Cars.com can help take away the guesswork on how to correctly install a car seat in your vehicle with easy-to-follow videos. The series offers examples of how to install car seats in a variety of vehicles, so you can give your family the best advantage possible should the unthinkable happen and you find yourself in a car accident.
Do you have car seat tips to share?