A lot of parents out there with cars have probably put a baby car seat on their vehicle before. But are they aware they could be doing it wrong?
Car accidents are one of the leading causes of preventable death in children aged one to 13 years. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the parents put a baby car seat in their vehicle and fixed it the right way.
It’s important for parents to use the baby car seat correctly. Though some of you may already have a baby car seat, a large number of parents don’t know how to properly install one.
Paediatrician Dr. Alisa Baer, also known as The Car Seat Lady, says, “Studies show that even for parents who are on their fourth kid, car seat installation is one of the few things that people tend not to get better at.”
Don’t be one of those mums and dads. Do it the right way. We’ve listed a few things you must remember when you put a baby car seat in your vehicle.
How to put a baby car seat the right way
1. Keep the car seat straps snug
“Most kids are riding around with straps that are too loose,” Baer says. Don’t worry about your kids protesting about properly-secured, snug straps, they do not 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.
It’s the same with car seat straps.
You can watch this video to check how to ensure snug seat straps. And be careful to remove any bulky clothing when strapping them in. Bulky clothing like winter coats would require loosening straps, making them less effective.
2. Keep kids rear-facing for as long as possible
Usually, a child will be moved into a convertible car seat once they’ve outgrown an infant car seat. These convertible car seats can be used in either rear or forward-facing positions.
This is where parents should take great care in choosing between whether they “can” pick forward-facing position or “should.”
Baer recommends that you should always keep your child rear-facing until they’re two years old. Ideally, it should even be longer than the rear-facing limits of the car seat has been reached.
There’s a common misconception among parents that kids are at greater risk of leg injuries in rear-facing car seats during a crash. Why? Because it appears to them as though their kids’ legs are scrunched up against the seat’s back rest.
However, this isn’t the case. Baer points out that kids are at a greater risk for leg injuries when their seat is facing forward during a car accident. This is because their feet will more likely make contact with the seat in front of them — which will simultaneously move backward during an accident.
“The leg injuries we see when a child is rear-facing are usually due to a direct impact from the intruding vehicle. At that point, it doesn’t matter which way your child is facing,” says Baer.
3. Once your child outgrows rear-facing seats, ensure their safety in forward-facing seats
“The goal now that we’ve turned your child forward, which makes their brain and spine less safe than when they were rear-facing is to keep them as safe as we can,” says Baer.
Usually, forward-facing car seats come with a tether strap to keep the child extra safe. This tether secures to a top tether anchor point in your vehicle. If you don’t know where the top tether anchor point in your vehicle is, you’ll have to a little bit of research (or read the vehicle owner’s manual) to find it.
Some cars don’t have these, and some cars do. If you do find one, always use it to secure forward-facing seats.
“Forward-facing protection is greatly enhanced by the tether,” Baer explained. “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.”
4. Don’t start or stop using a booster seat too soon
Children must be at least four years old, weigh 40 lbs, and be mature enough to sit properly (“no slouching, no leaning over, and no playing with the seat belt”) before they can safely use a booster seat.
It’s that last requirement about being mature enough to sit properly that makes the difference, too. For that reason, Baer says that most kids must be around six years old before they’re ready to be in a booster seat.
As for letting kids get rid of their booster seats, Baer noted that a lot of parents do it a little too soon.
“The goal of a booster is to keep the belt property positioned on a child’s body, specifically so the lap belt stays in position on the child’s lower hips during a crash,” she says.
Baer notes that kids’ injuries in car accidents without booster seats don’t always result in fatalities, but they’re often life altering. They’re usually lower spinal cord injuries that result in paralysis, or bladder and bowel injuries.
You can prevent this by using a five-step test to check if your kid still needs to use a booster seat or not. When your kids are 10 to 12 years old, it’s usually safe to get them out of a booster seat.
5. Ensure everyone is buckled up
The fewer things loose bodies have to crash into when an accident happens, the better. So it’s vital to keep every passenger buckled up.
“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. Have the child’s car seat checked by a trained technician after installation
This service may not be available everywhere in the world, but always make sure you check with your local transportation office if they have trained experts to inspect your child’s car seat. You can also try your car’s maker if they have someone who can check it for you. Or go to seatcheck.org for information to guide you.
7. Remember: the center seat is usually the safest spot in the car for kids
As long as your child is properly and snugly strapped in, the center seat is the safest spot for your child. That’s because in the event of a crash, the center seat will not take a direct hit from the front seats. So remember, when you put a baby car seat in your vehicle, try to put it in the center.
8. Don’t use the phone while driving
When we put a baby car seat in our vehicles, what good would it do if we’re not careful drivers?
“We’re not going to make a dent in fatalities until we decrease distracted driving,” Baer says. “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, and must be replaced
Baer says, “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 a crash.”
Car seats have different expiration dates depending on the maker of the car. Usually, though, they tend to last for six to eight years.
If your car is a little old, make sure every part is checked, like the interiors. If they need to be replaced, replace them. It may be expensive, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone in the car.
Be careful with borrowed or hand-me-down car seats, booster seats, and baby seats. Just get a new one to be on the safe side.
10. Replace your car seat after a dramatic car accident
Any time your car suffers a dramatic accident, the seats absorb the force of the impact whether they were occupied or not.
Most manufacturers advise car owners that car seats require replacement regardless of the crash’s severity. Some seats have a “minor crash protocol” as you can see in Baer’s website.
Put a baby car seat the right way
Baer notes that the top three common mistakes people make when they put a baby car seat in their vehicles are any of the following:
- Car seats are too loose in the car.
- Kids are too loose in the car seats.
- Kids who “graduate” too soon from baby car seats or booster seats.
With a lot of effort and mindfulness, we can prevent these mistakes and avoid injury and death. These tips may be a lot to take in, but keep them in mind to ensure the safety of your family.