According to the CDC, National Child Passenger Safety Week is from September 19-25. The CDC is increasing efforts to educate parents about the important of proper restraints due to some very scary statistics of children needlessly suffering injuries that could have been prevented. In their own words, “Greater effort is needed to ensure that parents correctly restrain their children on every trip” (CDC 2010).
How to use car seats properly is a topic I always want to spread information about. I am joining the CDC to share information on the importance of car seat safety and I hope this blog post answers some common questions/concerns parents and caregivers have.
I am not an expert, but these two ladies are! To help me with my article I interviewed two Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs). A CPST undergoes thorough training in infant/child car seats and booster seats and their certification lasts 2 years.
I asked each of them 5 questions and here are my Top Ten Car Safety Tips straight from the experts!
Wendy Tischler Thomas
Wendy is a passionate child passenger safety technician and mother of two in Seattle, Washington. For four years she has educated parents online and in person about child passenger safety from birth to the teen years. She finds it very satisfying to see kids riding around safer, and listening to parents spread the word themselves on child passenger safety after they receive a little education in the matter.
1. What is the proper height for the shoulder straps for forward facing and rear facing children?
Rear facing you want them at or below a child’s shoulder. Forward facing you want them at or above. Rear facing that prevents the child from ramping up in the seat and risking whiplash, and forward facing it helps protect against spinal compression.
2. If my baby fusses too much rear facing and turns a year old in a couple weeks is it that bad to turn her around front facing a few weeks early?
It is that bad. Her size has little to do with being able to forward facing. It’s much more about skeletal maturity. Until the bones have ossified in the neck, which is around six years old, a child is much more at risk of neck injuries. To help a child survive such forces on the neck with a proportionally large head sitting atop it, we rear face them as long as possible, ideally to three to four years old or beyond, and then forward face them in a harness until between five and six years old. Since 2002 the AAP has recommended that children face the rear to the maximum limits of the convertible carseat, which nowadays is 30-45 pounds, or 1″ from the top of the hard shell. In 2009 the AAP put out a statement saying that two years, not one, should be the bare minimum a child should be considered safe to face forward, but ideally, rear facing should continue after that. This is so important that the AAP also put out an article in their journal Pediatrics in 2009 telling pediatricians to stop saying one year is safe for forward facing. It simply isn’t. Children between the ages of one and two are 500% safer rear facing.
3. If I am constantly changing seats between cars is it just as safe to use the car’s seat belt at the car seat’s LATCH hooks?
Yes, it is. The seatbelt is not less safe than LATCH, it’s just supposed to be easier. Just make sure that if you’re installing a seat forward facing that you use a top tether. And if you’re switching seats that often, it might be a good idea to get a second seat (it doesn’t have to match the first seat). Every time a seat is installed there is room for error. Installing a seat constantly means that there’s that much more room for error to happen.
4. I am on a tight budget and wish I could afford a super safe expensive seat. What are some cheap car seats that are also safe for my child?
There are no safety ratings. All seats must pass the same tests, so provided you use whatever seat you have properly, it’s a safe seat. Most of what you pay for are ease of installation, extra padding, bells and whistles. The best seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car, fits your budget, and is used properly 100% of the time. On a budget rear facing I’d look at the Cosco Scenera at $45. It rear faces and forward faces to 40 pounds with 15″ top slots. Forward facing on a budget I’d look at the Evenflo Maestro $80. It’s best for kids who are too big or heavy to rear face, so about three years old, up to about six years old. It harnesses to 50 pounds with 18″ top slots. For a good economical dedicated booster, I’d look at the high back Graco TurboBooster (any pattern is fine). It runs about $35 on sale, $60 or so not on sale, and will last many kids to eight or nine with the back on, and then 10-12 years without the back.
5. Where can I go to get my car seat checked for proper installation?
Some fire and police stations do have checks. You can look at safekids.org to find a coalition local to you and see when they are holding checks. Make sure that with any technician you see you ask that they are Safe Kids certified from the four day certification class. They should have a copy of their tech card with them.
You can check for a local tech at http://seatcheck.org/. You can also get help online at the online car seat forum, http://www.car-seat.org
I live in Southern California. I have been a Child Passenger Safety Technician since 2007. I became interested in car seat safety when I was pregnant with my son. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know! I now have two children, and we’re in the process of getting ready to travel the country full-time. My blog is My Free Range Family.
1. What is the most common mistake you see when checking car seats?
Parents don’t tighten the harness enough and don’t have the chest clip placed properly. The other mistake I see a lot is people borrowing LATCH anchors to install a seat in the middle of their car. Most cars don’t have LATCH in the center, and most don’t allow borrowing of the outboard anchors. People know that the center seat is the safest, but they think LATCH is safer than using a seatbelt, so they borrow anchors, which can actually be dangerous.
2. How do I get my car seat’s LATCH belt tight enough?
First, you don’t necessarily need to use the anchors. As long as you’re using an approved LATCH position and your child is within the LATCH limits for your car (yes, there are usually limits!) there’s nothing wrong with using LATCH. However, there’s nothing wrong with using the seatbelt either. As long as the seat moves less than an inch at the beltpath, you’re fine.
As for getting a seat tight enough with LATCH, the first step is to read the manual for the car seat and your vehicle! Check to see which seating positions have LATCH, and don’t borrow anchors from the outside to use in the middle unless both manuals say you can. Make sure the LATCH strap is going through the proper belt path, and make sure there are no twists. Make sure the LATCH connectors aren’t upside-down. Put pressure on the seat and pull the strap tight. Make sure the strap isn’t getting hung up on anything, and try pulling at different angles if you need to.
3. Can I move my preschooler to a booster seat and give my baby her convertible car seat since boosters are cheaper than another convertible?
Most safety advocates don’t recommend moving a child to a booster until at LEAST 4 years and 40 pounds. In fact, most recommend waiting until a child is at least 5. When moving a child to a booster seat, maturity is a huge factor. Until your child can sit without slouching, leaning over, and playing with the seatbelt, it’s best to keep him or her in a harnessed seat.
In this particular situation, a good solution might be buying a combination seat for the preschooler. A combination seat has a harness, but later converts to a booster. That would allow you to move the baby into the older child’s convertible seat, but still keep the preschooler in a harness for awhile.
4. Why do car seats have expiration dates?
Materials degrade and break down over time. Heat, cold, and sunlight can damage components of the seats. And safety standards change. What was considered safe 10 years
ago might not be considered as safe today. When it comes to your child’s safety, it’s better to err on the side of caution and abide by the expiration dates.
5. What is the safest infant padding/head support for a newborn in a car seat?
We don’t recommend using any kind of padding, head supports, buntings, etc. that didn’t come with the seat. Aftermarket products weren’t tested with the seat and could affect the way the seat performs. If a baby needs head support, the best thing to do is put the baby in the seat and buckle him up snugly. Then take two receiving blankets, roll them up, and place them along the baby’s head and sides (if needed). That’s less expensive and more customizable than any product you could buy, and nothing goes between the baby and the seat or harness.