Car seats are not only legally required to be used on children, but they are an important factor in ensuring that your child will not be seriously injured or killed in the event of a car accident. Using one is important, but using one correctly is crucial. If you install a car seat incorrectly or put your child into the seat incorrectly, they can actually do more harm than good if you get into a car accident. You need to have a car seat if you are taking a baby home from the hospital in a car. You should have your car seat checked or installed by a Certified Car Seat Technician about 3-4 weeks before your due date.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 80% of car seats are installed incorrectly. This is a huge factor in why automobile accidents are the number one killer of children under the age of 14, and is completely preventable. Here are some general installation guidelines. However, the best way to make sure that your baby’s car seat is installed correctly is to have it checked out by a Certified Car Seat Technician.
All back seats are by nature safer than front seats. However, the safest place for anyone, including your baby, to ride in a car is the center of the back seat. In addition to keeping your baby away from side-impact collisions, it protects baby from any danger that may be caused from deploying side air bags. Never put your baby in the front seat unless it is absolutely necessary.
Angle of Installation
A car seat must be installed at a 45 degree angle. Always read the manual that comes with your car seat for instructions and specifications on angles and make sure you follow directions.
Seatbelt or LATCH System
A car seat can be attached to the seat of the car by either the car seatbelt or the LATCH system. Choose one or the other, but do not use both. If your car has a LATCH system, this is the preferred way to go and is often easier to use than a seatbelt. LATCH stands for “lower anchors and tethers for children” and is an attempt by car manufacturers and car seat manufacturer’s to make all car seats fit in all cars. Check your car manual to see if you have this system. You can also look in the backseat of your car. If you have a LATCH system, you should find U-hooks inside the seats near the buckles. All new infant car seats are equipped with the LATCH system. Read the car seat manual or car manual for instructions on how to attach the car seat using this system. In cars without the LATCH system, you can use the seat belt to buckle in the car seat. For most types of seat belts, you will pull the seat belt completely out to put it into a locking mode. Once this is done, read your car seat manual to learn the path that you must put the seat belt in to secure the car seat. After you have done this, buckle the seat belt, release it, and pull it to tighten.
Putting the Baby in the Car Seat
Loosen the straps of the car seat and place the baby into the seat. Put the baby’s arms through the straps and buckle the seat between the baby’s legs. Tighten the straps, then clip the retainer clip (also known as the chest buckle), then tighten the straps more to ensure a snug fit. The straps should be tight enough that you can’t pinch them and there is no slack. You should be able to put only one finger under the strap at each shoulder. Do not add any extras to the car seat, such as pillows for blankets. Car seats are “crash tested” just like cars are and are tested only with what comes with the seat. They are designed to just hold the baby.
The first car seat you will purchase will most likely be an infant-only seat. These seats are specially designed for young infants and for being used in the rear-facing position that is safest for them. A convenient feature of an infant-only seat is that after installing a detachable base into the back seat of your car you can just snap the seat into the base when you are ready to go somewhere with your baby. Then, when you reach your destination you will simply have to detach the seat and use it as a carrier to bring your baby out and about with ease. Most infant seats can only be used for babies that weigh less than 20 pounds. If you are using an infant seat and your baby weighs 20 pounds before his first birthday you will have to get a convertible seat and use it in the rear-facing position for a while.
Rear-facing car seats cannot be used in a seat with an air bag as this is very dangerous for your baby. If you drive a car or truck that doesn’t have a back seat, you will have to turn off your passenger-side air bag when you have your baby in the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a form available that allows you to request an air bag on-off switch if you have an infant who must ride in the front seat.
Common Mistakes of Car Seat Use
Not getting an appropriate car seat for your child: Make sure that you are getting a car seat that is appropriate for your child’s height, weight, and age. This information can be found on the boxes or on the sides of the car seats themselves.
Not making child use a rear-facing car seat long enough: In most states it is the law that infants must ride rear-facing until they weigh 20 lbs AND are 1 year old. This means that if you have a 10 month old child who weighs 22 lbs, he should continue to face backwards until he is at least 12 months old. This also means that if you have a 14 month old who weighs 19 lbs, they should still face rear when in a car seat.
Not finding out history of used car seat: Never use a car seat that you don’t know the history of. A car seat from a yard sale or consignment shop may have been involved in a recall or car accident and may not be safe anymore. Saving some money should not be a major concern when you are purchasing something that will be helping to ensure that your baby does not get seriously injured or killed in a car accident.