Child Passenger Safety Week is September 17 – 23, 2017. This week is an excellent time to review best practice for car seat installation. Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children 1 to 13 years old. Many deaths and injuries can be prevented by proper use of car seats, boosters and seat belts. I became a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician in June and I learned a lot of basic tips that can help you make sure your little one (and big ones) are secure in your vehicle.
Make sure you have the correct seat for your child
Do not install it and forget about it
Before I became a technician, I will admit that while I was very aware of how my child was buckled into her seat, I did not check my seat often. Now, I check to make sure it is secured each and every time I get in my car. While you do not need to check EVERY time, make it a habit to check your seat regularly. Can you move it more than one inch side to side or front to back (make sure you are doing this from the belt path and not the top of the seat)? If so, tighten it. Here is a great resource with basic tips for carseat installation.
Check where the head rest and straps are on your child
Kids grow SO QUICKLY. Your seat needs to adjust with your child. If you are rear facing, the shoulder straps should come out of the car seat to be at or just below your child’s shoulders. If you are forward facing, the straps should come out of the car seat to be at or just above your child’s shoulders.
Also, make sure you are always moving that chest clip to the “tickle points” on your child. After they are buckled in, can you simply move your fingers across to those armpits and tickle? If so, you are in the right place. Always check to make sure those straps are tight enough. You should not be able to pinch or fold any fabric on those straps (pinching vertically). Here is a quick video that shows how to correctly do a “pinch test”.
In addition, be sure the head rest of the seat is going at least once inch above your child’s head. This helps protect their neck and head from injuries or even sudden stops. If you need to pull the back of your seat up, do it. Here is a great place to go for information about getting a right fit.
Make sure your seatbelt is going through the correct path
You know that there are seat belt paths on your seat. If you have a convertible seat, make sure your seatbelt is going through the correct path. I learned in my class that it is fairly common (and on some seats, very easy) to get confused and feed the belt through the incorrect path (for example, a seat is forward facing, but the belt is going through the rear facing path). This should be clearly labeled on your seat, so it is an easy thing to check. You can also check your car seat manual for where everything is located on your seat.
Make sure you are aware of the height and weight guidelines on your car seat
This is not a suggestion on the car seat, but a requirement. Make sure you are aware of your child’s height and weight and check your seat from time to time to make sure it isn’t time to turn it or replace it. Also keep in mind that all factors are important. Are they too heavy for the seat but they are not 2 years old yet? Do not turn them, buy a new seat. Are they 2 years old, but not quite at the weight or height requirements for turning? At that point, it is ultimately up to you if you want to turn them. Rear facing is the safest way to travel, so for my little one, I am waiting until she reaches the height or weight requirements of rear facing (she is 2.5 years old). Just be aware of laws, guidelines and best practice. This is a great resource to look at when you are thinking of turning your carseat.
Do not clean up messes (vomit, urine, poop … all the exciting new things that happen in your vehicle when you have little ones) without reading your manual first
Car seats are treated with things that can be ruined or washed off if you try to clean your seat without reading directions first. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Trust me, I would want to get my car seat in the washing machine as soon as possible if my kid threw up in it, but you need to read the manual first. You can also check out these tips for keeping your carseat clean.
Read both the carseat manual AND the owner’s manual for your car
Speaking of manuals, it is important to read both the carseat manual AND the owner’s manual for your car to make sure you have your seat in the proper/safest location.
Secure your seat with the seat belt OR the lower anchors (if your seat and car have anchors) – DO NOT USE BOTH
I know it may seem like doing both would be doubling the safety, but it does not. Choose one. That is how the car seat is tested and you want it installed the way it was tested. Also be sure to use the tether if you are forward facing (check your manuals as to where the tether is and where it should go).
If you use “extras” (mirrors, seat protectors, etc.), make sure they are sold by the same car seat brand as your seat
These items are tested to work together. So, if you have a Chicco car seat, use accessories sold by Chicco. If you add “extras” that are not the same brand, you are compromising the safety of your seat. Also, be aware of projectiles in your car. Water bottles, toys, books, your purse or gym bag … all of these could end up flying around your car in the event of an accident and can cause head injuries. Throw all of those things in your trunk and you’re good to go.
Be aware of guidelines for older children
Did you know that your children really need to ride in the backseat until they are at least 13 years old? Also make sure the shoulder strap of the seat belt fits your older child correctly. You may have a 9 year old who needs a booster seat. The seat belt should come right across your child’s chest – if it fits too high, your child needs a booster seat. This website has a tool where you can put in your child’s birth date and weight and get recommendations for safe travel.
Be a good role model and ALWAYS wear your seatbelt CORRECTLY
Do not stick it under your arm because it hurts your neck or flattens your boobs. You can end up without your head or boobs if you ride like that and are involved in a car accident. Also be sure that no passengers have their legs up on your dashboard. If legs/feet are hanging out the windows or are up on a dashboard, that passenger can loose those legs in an accident.
Make sure your child is secure in the car seat each and every time you get in your car
Going to a neighbor’s house? Strap them in. Going from one store in a strip mall to another? Strap them in. You never know when someone is going to come flying out of a driveway or through a parking lot.
Being safe in your vehicle is IMPORTANT
There are car seat checks around town all the time! And, during Child Passenger Safety Week, there is something going on just about everyday. Visit this website to find out where a car seat check is happening near you. Also, if you live in Lexington County, you can call your local police department and schedule a car seat check with an officer who is a certified technician. I did this when I was pregnant and I am so glad I did! If you do not live in Lexington County, you can visit this link to find an inspection station near you!