12 Car Seat Safety Mistakes You May Be Making

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Using a car seat does not ensure your child’s safety. Car seats are intended to keep your young one safe, but if not used correctly, your child’s safety may be compromised.  Various mistakes during use like incorrect use of the harness, loose car seat installation, washing car seat straps or putting your child forward facing too soon can be deadly mistakes in the event of an accident.

So are you making these very common but potentially fatal car seat safety mistakes?

Mistake #1: Positioning The Chest Clip Incorrectly

A recent survey by our friends at NHTSA cited incorrect positioning of the chest clip as one of the most common mistakes parents made when using car seats. It is also the easiest one to fix.  Parents will put the chest clip together but often fail to position it correctly. If the chest clip is left too low (most times at the abdomen), your child’s harness straps may slide off their shoulders making it likely that they may be ejected from their car seat during and accident.  A poorly positioned chest clip may also cause internal bleeding. This is because the abdomen area is not as protected as the chest area (by the ribcage).

What can a parent do to fix this?: Make sure that chest clips are in line with your young one’s armpits. By doing this you ensure that the chest clips are on the chest.

Mistake # 2 : Unfastened Car Seat Installation.

Another mistake pointed out by NHTSA is loose installation.  This is the number one mistake made by parents according to car seat inspectors. You can use your own car seat belts to secure the car seat, but car seats come complete with LATCH system equipment and tethers to assist with correct installation.

A car seat that moves even slightly is more dangerous in an accident as the impact of the collision can shake your child terribly causing serious injury to their head or face should the car seat crash into the front seat.

What can parents do to fix this? : Confirm that the car seat can only move less than an inch.  Use the LATCH system if your car has it and fasten the top tether as tightly as is possible.  When using a seatbelt, tighten it as much as you can. You can use the weight of your arm or knee to depress it. This will also ensure that you better secure the LATCH system seat.  Make sure you lock the seat belt. DO NOT use the seat belt and LATCH together.  Using both the LATCH and seatbelt can be dangerous and does not in any way add to the safety of your child. Using both my in fact transfer too much impact to the plastic causing it to break or to your child.

Mistake #3: Loosely Secured Harness

It goes without saying that a loose harness is unsafe. It is suggested by the NHTSA that there should be no slack between a child and the harness. However, parents many times leave two or more inches of slack and this could be potentially fatal in the event of a collision.

A loose harness means that a child is at risk of movement and even ejection from the car seat. Fatal injury and even death is a possibility should the child hit another passenger or any part of the car’s interior or is ejected from the car altogether. Even if the child does not come out of the car seat, excessive shaking can cause damage to the brain and other internal organs.

You should however be careful that they harness is not too tight. The straps are made to have some give so that they can accommodate the energy from a crash. If the seat is too constricted, the force from the crash will be transferred to the child.

What can parents do to fix this?.

The Car Seat Nerd recommends that you should fasten harness straps as much as they can withstand without compromising safety. Just be careful that the straps are not too tight.

Mistake #4:  Improper Harness Slots

Car seats have adjustable straps because they are made to grow with the child. For a rear facing car seat, the harness should be at or just below the child’s shoulder.

Forward facing seats should have their harness slots at or above the child’s shoulders. The straps may be moved as your child grows.  Improper use of the harness slots is a risk to your child. They may not be as secure in an accident.

What can parents do to fix this ?

Check your child’s car seat frequently to ensure that you are using the right slot. Confirm that for a rear facing the harness are at or just below the shoulders and at or just above the shoulders for a front facing seat.

Mistake #5 : Improper Seat Belt Placement

It may become increasingly difficult to ensure proper placement and use of the seat belt as children move to booster seats.  To make sure that seat belts are placed correctly, belt-positioning boosters can assist if they fit and are used accurately.

It may become increasingly difficult to ensure proper placement and use of the seat belt as children move to booster seats.  To make sure that seat belts are placed correctly, belt-positioning boosters can assist if they fit and are used accurately.

A child will not be restrained in a collision with a wrongly placed lap belt.  This may cause abdominal injury should their hips slide under the lap belt. A shoulder belt that is used wrongly can cause forward movement or cause injury to the neck and face.

What can parents do to fix this ? : You need to ensure that the lap belt fits well across your child’s upper thigh, it should not be on the tummy. Shoulder belts should fit well across the shoulder and chest evading the neck and face.

Mistake # 6:  Using a Used or Expired Car Seat

Because car seats are made to last and safeguard your child for year, many families tend to use the same car seat for more than one child. Car seats are often safe to use for over five years. However, expiration dates must be noted and respected.

Worn car seats are also not safe and may not safeguard your child as they were designed to. Seat belts can fray or wear over time causing them to open or break during a crash. Belts may also loosen and make it hard to fit safely.

What Can Parents Do to Fix This ?: Find out the expiration date of the car seat. You will find it directly under the seat where your child’s legs rest. The expiration date may also be found on a sticker. If you can’t find any sticker, look for the molding under the car seat. It is also not wise to buy a used car seat especially from someone you do not know or from a thrift store. A used car seat may have been involved in a car accident and may have some unseen damage. You need to know the seat’s full history before you even consider purchasing or borrowing it. If the seat was involved in a crash, please call the manufacturer for clarification on recommendations on whether it may be used or not.

Mistake #7: Transitioning to Forward Facing Car Seats Too Early

The law in many states allows for children who are a year old and at least 20 pounds to use a forward facing car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics  however suggests that children remain in  a rear facing position until they are at least two or when they can no longer fit in their rear facing car seat.

This recommendation has been made by the AAP because the rear facing position is much safer than the forward facing position. Putting a child forward facing too soon carries the risk of head and spinal injuries.

What Can Parents Do to Fix This ?: Have your child in a rear facing position for as long as possible. This means that you will have to wait until they get to the top limit weight or height allowed by the manufacturer. If their legs seemed cramped experts insist that kids are more comfy like this and are better protected from leg injuries.

Mistake #8 : Having a Child in a Car Seat in Heavy Winter Coats

Winter coats are a hazard when your kid is in a car seat. Heavy and filled coats leave plenty of space between your child and the harness straps.

Compression of heavy coats during a crash can be fatal , causing your child to be thrown around and possibly ejected.

What Can Parents Do to Fix This ?:Do not use heavy coats in the car. Your children should not wear more layers in their car seat than they would indoors. If they are not warm enough you may out their arms through their coat backwards over the harness and not under it.  Younger kids can have a blankie tucked around the straps.

Mistake #9: Use of Aftermarket Products/ Accessories

Bundle sets , mirrors , harness covers , toys that strap on or any other accessories designed to make your baby’s ride more fun and comfy may not be safe. These items can be found in any local baby store. According to Doucher , “ Always remember that anything that cannot be strapped down becomes projectile in the event of a crash”. Doucher insists that if you would not throw it at your child at 30mph , do not have it unstrapped in the car.  Anything that did not come as part of the car seat must be avoided for the safety of your child and the effectiveness of the car seat.

Some accessories like infant inserts that have not been provided by the manufacturer will make the car seat less safe by allowing for extra space and compression during an accident. Using these inserts can also void your warranty, as car seats are not tested for safety with aftermarket products in them. Mirrors and toys can easily become hazardous projectiles in a collision.

What Can Parents Do to Fix This ?:

They should simply not be used. It is a risk to your child’s safety to use anything that was not originally included with your car seat.  Only use strap covers and inserts that were provided by the manufacturer. These have been tested for safety and can be trusted.

Mistake #10: Using the Wrong Car Seat

A car seat is only safe if it is in the correct position and fits well. Having your child in a car seat that is too big or too small is dangerous.  Parents often move children to the next car seat way too soon. Preschoolers are most at risk of being moved up to a booster seat too soon as parents feel that they are ready as soon as they turn 4. It is only safe to move a child to a booster seat when he has attained the maximum height and weight allowed for their seat. The same also applies for older kids who may not be big enough to move out of a booster seat just yet.

The wrong car seat for your child is hazardous as it will not keep your child as safe as the correct car seat. Ineffective straps or incorrect positioning may also cause your child to be shaken on ejected during a crash.

What Can Parents Do to Fix This ?: Check with the manufacturer if your child is in the right car seat. You should know the weight and height limits for your child and their car seat. This will give you an indication if you can move them to the next seat or not.  To find out more about car seat recommendations for your child, visit  SaferCar.gov

Mistake #11: Placing an Infant in a Wrong Angle

Infant car seats do not just fit right into the base. An infant should be put in a 45-degree angle for their safety. Most car seats will have a recline indicator that show is the seat has been placed properly or not.

Placing your infant at the wring angle is dangerous, as they still do not have neck control. If their head rolls or they are unable to keep their head up, or their head rolls up on their chest, their airway may become blocked.  A seat that is also too reclined is hazardous.

What Can Parents Do to Fix This ?: You need to ensure that your car seat is in the proper and safe angle at all times. The safest angle for infants is 45 degrees rear facing.

Mistake # 12 : Washing straps

As gross as car seat straps may get with food , drool , spitup and dirty little hands , washing them may cause weakening  and stretching in an accident. Detergents may also strip the straps of their flame retardant.

What Can Parents Do to Fix This ?:

A regular wipe down of the straps with a damp cloth or baby wipes will do. There is no need to out them in your washer or soak them in water or any cleaner.

Here are a few resources The Car Seat Nerd recommends for more information on the safe us of car seats.

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