As a parent, car seat safety is undoubtedly your top concern when driving, whether you have an infant, toddler, or young children as passengers. That concern is well founded. Car accidents are the number two cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and the number one cause of death for children ages 4 to 12. By following the correct guidance for the proper use of a car seat you can dramatically decrease your child’s risk of death or serious injury in a car accident.
What are the Most Important Things to Know about Car Seats for Children?
The number one cause of injury to children in car seats is the failure to install the car seat properly. First and foremost, it is of the utmost importance to choose the right child seat for your child’s weight and height, and to carefully follow the installation requirements of the manufacturer. Read the car seat owner’s manual and instructions thoroughly before installing. Unfortunately, 3 out of 4 car seats are improperly installed, so in addition to reading the instructions, watch on-line installation videos for your particular make and model of car seat. Do everything you can to ensure that your car seat is installed correctly. Spending the extra amount of time is worth it!
Be sure to immediately register your newly purchased car seat and provide all of your contact information to the manufacturer. This is an important step, but often overlooked. By registering, you can now be notified of any defects that are later discovered or any recalls that may occur. Be aware of and adhere to the weight and height limits of your car seat because the proper type of car seat for your child is no longer defined by age alone.
Why use Rear-facing Car Seats?
Research shows that rear-facing car seats provide the best protection for newborns and growing infants. Their young bodies have not developed enough to handle the forces of an automobile accident when their body is facing forward. Rear-facing seats are designed to support the head, neck, and spine by distributing the crash forces across the shell of the car seat. When a car stops suddenly in an accident and a rear-facing car seat is in use, the forward movement of the infant’s head, neck, and torso will be pushed into the back of the car seat instead of whiplashing forward.
How Long Should a Child Stay in a Rear-Facing Seat?
All infants should start out in a rear facing car seat from their very first ride home from the hospital and remain using a rear-facing car seat at least until the age of 2. Because infants grow and gain weight at different rates, there is no specific age to switch from a rear-facing to a front-facing car seat. A child should transition to a forward-facing seat only when the seat’s height and weight limits, as set by the manufacturer, have been exceeded.
In the past, when a child became a toddler, this was the time to transition an infant from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing car seat. However, the latest toddler car seat safety research indicates this transition should not be rushed. Instead, delay that transition to front-facing as long as possible- but be sure the child still meets the seat height and weight limits of the seat manufacturer.
What is the LATCH System?
If your car was manufactured after 2002, it will have a LATCH system that can be used to anchor your child’s car seat to your vehicle. You should switch from the lower anchors of the LATCH system to the vehicle seat belt when the combined weight of the child and the car seat exceed 65 pounds. Because each car seat is different, follow the car seat instruction manual to determine the requirements for LATCH or seat belt use for your particular car seat.
How Safe are Booster Seats?
At some point your child will outgrow a car seat but will be too small to sit in a vehicle car seat. For children in this in-between age and size, it’s not safe for them to ride in either a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat because they are too big. But it’s also not safe for them to ride in the vehicle seat with just a seat belt because they are too small. The booster seat bridges this gap and raises the child up so the vehicle safety belt fits properly across the child’s chest between the shoulder and the neck without touching the neck. Follow the information provided by the manufacturer for installation and use.
What about Second-Hand or Used Car Seats?
We don’t recommend purchasing a second hand or used car seat because you usually can’t be 100 % sure of the car seat’s history, including knowing for sure that it has not been involved in a crash. Although all car seats that have been inside a vehicle that has been involved in an accident are supposed to be destroyed by their owners- that does not always happen. Even if the seat looks undamaged, the forces from the accident could have stressed the components in ways that are not visible, thereby reducing its ability to protect a child in the future.
If you do acquire a second hand car seat and can confirm with the prior owner that it has never been in an accident, there are things to do to ensure its safety. The manufactured date and serial numbers are usually listed on the back side or underneath the car seat. You can then go on the manufacturer’s website to check its recall status, find out the recommended expiration date, confirm the height and weight limitations, obtain the instructions for proper installation, and many times even register as the new owner.
Bottom Line Car Seat Safety
Choose the correct car seat for your child’s weight and height, meticulously follow car seat installation instructions, and register your car seat with the manufacturer. Be sure your child is secure with all straps, claps, belts and clips firmly in place before even starting your car. And always drive safely with your precious cargo!