Since this blog is about local events and activities, I haven’t written anything very personal or anything that’s left me feeling vulnerable or exposed. But about a month ago, I had a “great” idea about a car seat safety post that made me pretty nervous. We just purchased 2 new car seats for the girls (3 years and 1 year) and I decided to ask local mom and Child Passenger Safety Technician, Lindsay, to help me install them. But before that, I let her inspect my current seats, exactly as they were, to see if I was following all safety guidelines.
We’ve probably all seen the stat that 80% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly. And Lindsay had already told me that she has never seen a completely perfect install. Think about that for a moment! So in the interest of making my girls as safe as possible, and helping other parents at the same time, I decided to post Lindsay’s comments about my car seats with Smyrna Parent readers. In addition, she shares some of the most common mistakes she sees in her inspections.
So, what did Lindsay find?
Overall, Alicia’s seats were very well installed. I’ll start with Elia’s seat (3 years old). Her seat was installed well, her straps were snug, but her chest clip was just a little bit too low. When you buckle up your little ones, make sure the top of the chest clip is even with the armpits. This clip is to keep the straps in the right position for a crash, if the clip is too low the straps could slip off the shoulders in a crash. Also, the clip needs to stay positioned over the breastbone, if it’s too low it could cause abdominal injuries in a crash. Keep this clip up where it needs to be!
For Evie’s seat (13 months old), she was rear facing, she was buckled in properly, her straps were snug, and the chest clip was in the right spot. The problem with her seat is that the base moved more than an inch when installed. When you install a car seat, it needs to be snug so that you can’t move the seat more than an inch at the belt path (where the seat belt or latch strap goes through the car seat). The car seat may move more than an inch in other spots, so make sure you only check the belt path for movement.
As for the most common mistakes I see. The absolute most common is turning a child forward facing too soon. It’s simply not a safe choice to turn a child forward facing before they are two years old. They risk significant spinal injury before then. Up until age two, a child’s spine is like the wooden alphabet blocks: easy to knock over. After two they are like legos: more difficult to knock over. Keep your babies rear facing as long as you can! I have an almost 3 year old myself who is happily rear facing still.
The second most frequent issues we see are harness problems. The straps are too loose, or the chest clip is on the belly. You also have to be sure the height of the straps is set correctly. For a rear facing child the straps need to originate AT or BELOW the child’s shoulders. For forward facing they need to be AT or ABOVE the shoulders. Tighten the harness so it’s snug enough that you can’t pinch any extra slack over the collarbone. For more information about the pinch test go here. You also want to be sure there are no twists in your straps — you want them to lay flat on your child.
One last thing I see all the time is aftermarket products added to a car seat. If something didn’t come with your car seat, don’t use it. This includes mats that go under the car seats. The mats are bad because they can trick you into thinking the car seat is installed snugly when it isn’t. It’s just the mat gripping the seat, making it seem like the seat is moving less than an inch, when in reality it would be moving much more. Also, don’t use any extra strap covers, head or body supports, or toys attached to the carry handle of an infant seat. Last, but not least, never put an infant car seat on top of a shopping cart! They aren’t meant to do that and can damage the seat or fall over.
It’s a good idea to take the time to get your seat checked by a Child Passenger Safety Technician. Feel free to contact me via email if you’d like to book a seat check ([email protected]), or book a seat check appointment at the Cobb County Safety Village. It’s a few minutes, FREE, and could save your child’s life.