I became passionate about car seat safety when my son, who’s now nearing age three, was just four months old and I attended MommyCon, a natural parenting convention. One of the presentations was all about car seat safety. Reluctant to attend at first (because, I mean…really, how difficult can it be to put your kid in a car seat?) I found myself surprised and embarrassed because I was making a lot of mistakes that could have put my son’s life at risk. I went home that night and read my car seat manual front-to-back, as instructed by the presenter, and quickly realized just how wrong I was doing everything. His straps weren’t tight enough. I was using an after-market head support. The chest clip was too low. There was a mat underneath the base. I had attached toys and other accessories to the carry handle. Aside from those hideous, and extremely flammable, minky “custom” covers, I was breaking all of the rules. Which is even more embarrassing because I am a rule-follower to the T.
Soon after that huge wake-up call, I joined an online Facebook group dedicated to car seat safety. I lurked around the page, gathering as much information as I could about the ins and outs of child passenger safety. There was so much to learn! I eventually toyed with the idea of becoming a certified tech and kept stalking the SafeKids site to find a class I could take. Finally, in June 2014, I enrolled and completed the week-long course to become a Child Passenger Safety Technician. I love being able to help caregivers to keep their children as safe as possible in the car. But sometimes I wish I didn’t know as much I do because I’m constantly aware of how many children are not buckled correctly into their car seats. The NHTSA has found that as many as 90% of car seats are used incorrectly. That’s huge. HUGE. So chances are, if you have ever driven a child in your car then you’ve done so incorrectly. Please don’t take offense to that statement. My goal is to educate you on the importance of proper child seat safety so that in the event of a crash, your child is safe from many injuries that occur due to improper use.
This will be the first of several posts regarding child passenger safety. This one will focus on how to properly buckle an infant into the car seat. Whether you use a rear-facing only car seat or a convertible car seat for your infant, the rules are the same. Keep in mind that correct buckling is only a portion of proper usage; the car seat must also be correctly installed in the vehicle in order to protect a child in a crash.
Before I tell you what to do, let’s briefly discuss what not to do.
A common mistake many people make, myself included, is using aftermarket products (AMPs) with their child’s car seat. A good rule of thumb is if it didn’t come in the box with your car seat then it must not be used. This includes aftermarket strap covers, head supports, body supports, covers, etc. All manufacturers prohibit the use of AMPs. They’re also illegal in 48 states. Another common mistake is attaching toys and other accessories to the carry handle of rear-facing-only seats. These may be allowed when you’re not driving, but when you’re in motion in a vehicle, these products are also prohibited. Lastly, vehicle seat protector mats. Some people use towels, receiving blankets, or other items to protect their vehicle seats from car seat damage. It’s very important to check your car seat manual to see if these items are allowed.
Moving on. So by this point if you haven’t already read your car seat manual completely, then I demand (yup, I can do that. This is my blog and I’ll make demands if I want to) that you go do that right now. Go on. You know you want to. You’re so curious to know if you’ve been using your child’s car seat correctly. Please, for your child’s sake, go read it. It’s fun. I promise!
<Insert Jeopardy theme song humming.>
Welcome back. Did you learn a few things? Yes? Woohoo! I told you so. Let’s review:
- Harness straps must be level with or below your child’s shoulders when the child is rear facing (which he/she needs to do until a minimum of age two but as close to age four as possible).
- Straps must be flat and free of twists.
- Straps must be tight enough to pass the pinch test.
- Chest clip must be level with child’s armpits.
Once you’ve learned and mastered how to properly buckle your infant into his/her seat, you should review your installation to be sure it is also correct. Please comment below if you have any questions. I’m happy to help!