||[March 19, 2008 @ 8:30am]
In the past week I've had three run-ins with improper car seat installation. I saw a woman at Wal-Mart putting a toddler into the front seat of her car into the oldest car seat ever created and strapping him in with the seatbelt. I was a pussy and didn't say anything to her, I just called the police hotline to report improper car seat usage. Then my sister told me a story about her friend. My sister knows all the car seat rules as I've taught them to her because I want my baby to be safe when she drives him. She pointed out the loose straps on a friends car seat and the friend said "Oh, she's fine." My sister replied with, "I'm pretty sure my sister is a car seat nazi and she'd never let me put Carter in like that." The friend did nothing. The last incident was an online friend who had a picture of her baby forward facing before she was one year. These things really amaze me because since before Carter was born I've wanted to learn everything possible to keep him safe and do the safest thing possible for our family. I don't want there to be any regret because I didn't take the time to read a manual or because I wanted to spend money on something else.
So, I'm asking everyone on my friends list to read these safety guidelines. The last thing I ever want to have to read is that someone's child got hurt because a car seat was being used improperly. Even if you don't have kids in car seats right now, this information is valuable. I know I've put a number of children in improperly installed carseats during the years I was nannying and I can only be thankful that nothing ever happened. This information isn't to make anyone feel bad about what they've been doing, only to help them be safer.
1. Rear face until AT LEAST 20 lbs AND 1 yr old. Longer is better.
2. Your child has outgrown the rear facing limit of his seat when there is less than 1 inch of hard plastic above his head on all sides OR when he meets the weight limit, whichever comes FIRST. For most people, their children outgrow a carseat in height before weight. Please be aware of this. It's so important! Infant carriers are so convenient, especially in the winter, but when your child has outgrown it, it is no longer safe to use.
3. Your child has outgrown the forward facing limit of his seat when his shoulders are above the top harness slot on his seat OR he meets the weight limit, whichever comes FIRST. Again, most seats are outgrown in height before weight.
4. When choosing which slot to use for your child's harness, here are the rules. Rear facing- harness must be at or BELOW your child's shoulders. Forward facing- harness must be at or ABOVE your child's shoulders. This is very important! These rules must be followed so your child's carseat can perform properly in a crash.
5. Harness strap tightness- "A snug strap should not allow any slack. It lies in a relatively straight line without sagging. It does not press on the child’s flesh or push the child’s body into an unnatural position." A common way to check that the harness is snug enough is the pinch test. After adjusting the harness so it is comfortable, try to pinch the harness webbing along its length (not its width). If you can grab some of the webbing, it is too loose. Some older guidelines state that there should be enough slack in the harness to insert one or two fingers between the webbing and child, but this measure is not as good because children’s bodies are soft and pliable.
6. The chest clip needs to be at your child's armpit level in order to function properly (to prevent your child from being thrown from the seat).
7. How can I tell if my safety seat is installed tightly enough?
For a rear-facing safety seat, grasp it near the belt path on both sides and try to pull it away from the vehicle seat and from side to side. The safety seat should not slide easily more than about an inch. Then push the top edge downward, toward the floor of the car. Although the vehicle seat cushion may give, the safety seat should stay firmly in place and the back of the safety seat should stay at approximately the same angle (reclined about halfway back). It is acceptable (and normal) if the top of the safety seat can be pushed toward the rear of the car. (A few rear-facing safety seats have a tether to the floor or an anti-rebound bar to restrict this motion.) It is also normal for a rear-facing seat to swivel from side to side (toward the right or left front fender of the vehicle) when it is gripped at the top edge.
For a forward-facing safety seat with a harness, installation can always be improved with a top tether. Choose a seating position with a top tether anchor. First, install the safety seat with the vehicle belt or lower LATCH attachments, but without the top tether attached. Test the safety seat by grasping it at the belt path and pulling it forward and side to side. Then grip the top and try to pull it forward and sideways. If it can be easily moved more than an inch forward or to the side, try another seating position.
8. All experts agree that a seat should be discarded and destroyed if it is more than 10 years old, even if it looks fine. Most manufacturers suggest replacing a seat 5 to 8 years after the date of manufacture. It is important to check your owner's manual to verify your seat's expiration date.
9. Generally, the recommendation is to replace all safety seats in use in a crash. It is almost impossible to tell if there is internal weakening of the plastic, and it would be very expensive to perform a thorough investigation of the safety seat to verify that it is safe to use. In California, state law requires that the responsible insurer replace safety seats that were in use at the time of the crash. In other states, the insurer of the responsible party may pay for the replacement of the safety seat. If your agent is not aware of the need for this replacement, SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. will provide a letter of support for this position. Again, check with your seat's manufacturer regarding this. I believe Britax has a set of questions to tell if the seat needs to be replaced or not after a crash.
10. Keep your child in a 5-point harness as long as possible (but please don't go past your seats weight/heigh limits).
11. Use a 5-point harness seat rather than a 3-point one. The 3-point seats are the kind with the overhead shield. The child head can/will make contact with the shield in an accident. Also, the straps don't fit as closely to the child in this type of seat, elevating the risk of him/her being thrown from the seat.
12. Once your child has outgrown the 5-point harness, keep them in a booster until they fit an adult seatbelt properly (at least 8-10 years old). Here's how you can determine if your child is ready to graduate from the booster.
The 5-Step Test
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to make both the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right for the best crash protection. Your child will be more comfortable, too!
13. The back seat is the safest part of the car for all passengers. Recent research shows that children should ride in the back seat until they reach age 15. Researchers estimate that putting a child in the back seat instead of the front reduces the chance of injury and death by more than 30%, whether or not the car has a passenger air bag.
*Info taken from www.carseat.org.
In addition to those guidelines, puffy winter coats should never be worn in a car seat. In an accident the force of the crash will push the air out of the jacket leaving the straps loose and unable to protect the child correctly. Put the coat on for the walk from the house/store/school to the car, take it off at the car and put it back on to get back inside. Or, use a lightweight fleece coat that doesn't interfere with proper strap adjustment.
Some people scoff at some of the guidelines. Andrew, for one, refuses to believe that carseats expire. However, when I gave him the scenario of us using the carseat for longer than expected and then getting into a crash and Carter getting seriously injured or hurt, he decided he couldn't live with the what-ifs.
The best way to know if you're putting the car seat in right is to have it checked out. Getting it in tightly, rear facing can be tricky. If you go to this website you can search for the nearest safety checkpoint to you and an expert will help you with installation.