Car crashes are the leading cause of death and disability in children ages 1-15 years of age. Studies have shown that 4 out of 5 car seats are not used correctly. Child passenger laws only provide minimum protection for children. Read further to find out what you can do to provide the best protection for your children.
- Rear face your child as long as possible. Best practices advocate for rear facing to a minimum of 2 years of age. In a rear facing position, the car seat absorbs the crash forces, minimizing trauma to the young child and infant’s head, neck and spinal cord. Follow your car seat’s weight recommendations and consider purchasing car seats with higher weight limits for rear-facing.
- When using a car seat, always follow both the car seat manufacturer’s directions and your car manual instructions. The car seat directions will tell you important information about correct seat use and your car manual will have important directions about your car restraint features and where car seats may and may not be placed in the car. The safest seat you can buy is the seat that fits in your car and that you will use 100% correct every time. All car seats must meed federal safety standards.
- Use a 5-point harness as long as possible. This helps spread crash forces across 5 points of the body instead of just 2 or 3 points provided by a lap or lap and shoulder belt. This is the type of protection race car drivers use. Although California law mandates that children ride in the back seat in a safety seat or booster until they are 6 years old OR 60 pounds, most children cannot safely use a seat belt at this age or size. Look for car seats that have higher harness weight limits and use until your child has reached the maximum height or weight limit.
- Use a booster seat until your child can safely sit in a seat belt. Use this 5-step test to decide if your child can safely use a seat belt.*Does your child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
*Do your child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
*Is the lap belt below the abdomen, touching across the thighs and hips?
*Is the shoulder belt centered on the chest and shoulder?
*Can the child stay seated like this for the entire trip?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your child should continue to ride in a booster. Always use a booster with a lap and shoulder belt. Use a high backed booster if your car does not have a head support and, as always, read and follow all the car seat booster directions. When using a booster seat, it is important to make sure the seat belt is crossing the child’s thighs and hips and the shoulder belt is crossing the chest and shoulder. If the shoulder belt becomes loose when using the shoulder belt guides, unthread shoulder belt from the guides and make sure the shoulder belt retracts as the child moves in the seat. Adults and older children should make sure they are following the 5 step test as well.
- Keep children in the back seat. Airbags can be dangerous. Rear facing infants must never be placed in front of an air bag. Best practices suggest that older children start using the front seats when they are preparing to learn to drive. Until then, rear seats are safest.
- The middle position of the back seat is the safest position. If you only travel with one child, use this position if your seat can safely be installed there.
- Be sure to use the harness correctly. The harness should be snug enough so that no slack can be pinched where it lies across the infant or child’s shoulders. The retainer clip which joins each side of the harness together should be placed at armpit level. For infants and children rear facing, the harness slots should be at or below the shoulder. For forward facing children, the harness slots should be at or above the shoulder.
- Always register your car seat. This is the only way the manufacturer can notify you for any safety warnings or recalls associated with your seat. It is not advised to use a previously owned seat as the crash history may be unknown. A seat that has been involved in a crash, even if the child or infant is not present, may not be safe. Damage can occur to the seat and straps which may not be visible.
- Do not use a car seat past it’s expiration date. The materials can become brittle and safety cannot be guaranteed once this date is reached. Look on the labels or look for a expiration date impression on the shell of the seat.
- Always set a good example by buckling up yourself and ensuring that the car does not move until everyone is safely buckled and secure.
- Walk behind your vehicle before starting your trip to ensure no one is behind the vehicle. Drive over accidents do happen, especially with high vehicles and little children.
- Never leave children alone in the car, even for a minute.
- Fasten any loose items in the car. When older children get out of the booster seat, the booster seat should be buckled into place. Any loose item can cause injury or death in the event of a crash or sudden stop. A 15 pound booster seat unfastened involved in a crash at 20 miles per hour now has 300 pounds of pressure. Diaper bags, strollers, back packs and other items should be stored in the trunk, belted into place or tied down the cargo area of the vehicle.
- Consider having your car seat inspected by certified child passenger safety technicians. Safe Kids Orange County sponsors free monthly car seat inspections at various locations by appointment only. Call 714-532-8631 for an appointment and more information.
For more information, check out Safety Belt Seat USA website. If I can answer any specific questions you may have, please let me know.
Safe travels to you and yours,
Judi Leonard, PNP, BC, MSN
Judi Leonard is a Certified Passenger Safety Technician with Safe Kids Worldwide, and has been a member of the SOCPA team since 2008. To learn more about this provider, please click here.
The contents of this web site are provided as an informational tool. This is not intended to replace medical advice or care administered by a healthcare professional. Common sense should always be used when referencing this site. If, at any time, you feel your child is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.
Article date 07/2009