You may have heard the statistic that 9 out of 10 car seats are not being used correctly. We see the same statistics with families we serve at our Booster and Car Seat Clinic. That means only 1 in 10 is being used correctly – is yours the one?
Most of the mistakes we see in the clinic fall into one of three categories:
- A problem with the car seat.
- How the child fits in the seat.
- How the seat fits in the vehicle.
Problems with the seat
Wrong seat for the child. Your child’s age, weight and height are key factors when choosing the right seat. Some seats can be used for more than one stage of your child’s growth. Make sure to read and follow the car seat manufacturer’s guidelines carefully and monitor your child’s growth.
Too old or recalled. From the minute it rolls off the production line, a car seat ages. After six years the plastic and webbing have decomposed enough that the seat could fail in a crash. To see if your child’s car seat has been recalled, contact the manufacturer at the phone number or Web site listed on the car seat’s label. No label? Don’t use the seat.
Unknown history. Car seats should not be purchased second-hand. The seat may have been involved in a crash, recalled, or could have pieces missing that would make it unsafe. It can be difficult to tell these things by looking at the seat.
Problems with fitting the child in the seat
Straps too high or too low. When your child is in a forward-facing car seat, the harness straps should be at or above his or her shoulders. When your child is rear-facing, the straps should be at or below his or her shoulders.
Straps too loose. We use the “pinch test” to know when the straps are tight enough. If you can pinch the harness straps at your child’s shoulders the straps are too loose. Keep tightening the straps until you can’t quite pinch them.
Problems with fitting the seat in the vehicle
Installed too loosely. When the car seat is installed correctly there should be less than one inch of movement at the spot where the seat belt goes through the car seat. If the seat moves more than an inch, put some weight on the seat and try tightening again.
Installed incorrectly. There are several different types of seat belt systems, and newer vehicles also come equipped with LATCH, which replaces the seat belt. It is important to read the vehicle’s manual to decide which spots in the vehicle are safe for your child’s car seat and how the seat belt system or LATCH works.
One of the best things you can do to ensure your child’s safety is to have his or her car seat checked by a certified child passenger safety technician. We’ve got a lot of resources and information about child passenger safety at www.chw.org/carseats. There, you’ll also find listings for car seat check events and permanent fitting sites in your area.