I touched on car seat safety before, but since this is such an important subject I wanted to give my readers even more information. Everyone should understand how a car seat works, the dos & don’ts, and effective use for your child.
I enlisted the help of Sarah Tilton, car seat expert with Britax. Britax is the leading manufacturer of car seats with a global mission to ensure every child is properly secured and every caretaker knows how to do this. Sarah offered some outstanding advice in my interview:
1. What are the most common mistakes parents/caretakers make when it comes to car seat use?
- Some of the most common mistakes made by parents include:
o Not tightening the harness around the child appropriately
§ Almost 60 percent of caregivers do not properly tighten the harness of the car seat around the child. It should be snug around the child so that the harness webbing cannot be pinched (vertically) between your pointer finger and thumb at the collar bone. If you can pinch the harness webbing at the collar bone, the harness is too loose.
§ A feature offered in the BRITAX Pavilion 70-G3 and Advocate 70-G3 to help caregivers ensure the harness is properly tightened is the Click & Safe Snug Harness Indicator: http://www.britaxusa.com/learning-center/superior-ease-of-use/click-and-safe.
o Not getting a firm installation of the car seat in the vehicle (less than 1 inch of movement left to right and front to back at the belt path)
§ When installing a car seat, many caregivers route the vehicle seat belt through the car seat – sometimes the correct belt path and sometimes not – but often times they don’t understand it has to be pre-crashed locked (“pre-crashed locked” describes a child seat that is installed in a way that limits movement and minimizes the risk of injury to your child) to hold the car seat in place and achieve that less than 1 inch of movement. When using a seat belt as an adult we simply buckle with no pre-crash locking required.
§ Learn more about BRITAX Built-In Lock-Offs (approved devices to lock the vehicle seat belts in place to prevent the child seat from moving excessively): http://www.britaxusa.com/learning-center/superior-ease-of-use/built-in-lock-offs.
o Using LATCH above the vehicle anchor’s child weight capacity
§ Effective September 1, 2002, all car seats (except booster seats) and vehicles are required to be equipped with Lower Anchors and tethers for children (LATCH). The introduction of LATCH was intended to make the installation of car seats easier for caregivers. The part that is often overlooked or simply unknown by caregivers is that lower anchors have a maximum child weight of 40 to 48 pounds. Once the child reaches the maximum child weight (check both the vehicle owner’s manual and car seat manual and labels and use the lowest indicated weight) the installation should then be achieved by using the vehicle seat belt.
§ Learn more about BRITAX’s revolutionary installation technology called ClickTight, which eliminates the worries of knowing how to pre-crash lock a seat belt and what the maximum child weight is for the lower anchors: http://www.britaxusa.com/learning-center/superior-ease-of-use/clicktight-installation-system.
o “Graduating” children to the next type of car seat too soon
§ Caregivers often see turning their child from rear-facing to forward-facing or moving from a 5-point harness into a booster seat or using the vehicle seat with a belt-positioning booster seat (without a car seat) as a “graduation” to being a big girl or boy. Unfortunately, each one of those steps is a demotion in child passenger safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics (www.healthychildren.org) and BRITAX recommends children ride rear-facing through the second year of life or until they outgrow the weight and height for the car seat rear-facing. This includes utilizing the forward-facing harness until they outgrow the height and weight of the harness, followed by using a belt-positioning booster seat until they fit appropriately in a vehicle seat belt. The human body typically does not appropriately fit in a vehicle seat belt until somewhere a round 4 feet 9 inches – which can be anywhere between eight and 12 years of age depending on the child’s physical size.
§ Proper fit in a seat belt is when (1) the lower back is all the way against the vehicle seat back, (2) knees bend at the edge of the seat, (3) feet touch the floor (this prevents them from slouching and the lap portion of the seat belt riding up on stomach and soft tissue), (4) the lap portion of the belt sits low on hips/upper thighs, and (5) shoulder belts lie across the middle of the chest and across the collar bone–NOT into the neck.
2. How can parents/caretakers avoid making these mistakes?
- It is important that caregivers read the user guide for their car seat, the labels affixed to the side of the car seat and the car seat portion of their vehicle owner’s manual. The vehicle manual provides information regarding how to pre-crash lock their vehicle belt when installing a car seat. The car seat ser guide and labels will provide information regarding child weight and height ranges, proper installation and the company’s contact information.
- Visit the car seat manufacturer’s website for installation videos that may be helpful for ensuring proper use and installation or contact their customer service department with questions (many manufacturers’ customer service representatives are certified Child Passenger Safety technicians).
3. What should you look for in a car seat?
- When selecting a car seat, the caregiver wants to ensure the seat:
o Fits the child (appropriate for child’s age, weight and height)
o Fits in the vehicle (can be firmly installed with less than 1 inch of movement left to right and front to back)
o Has enough front-to-back room behind a driver or front passenger seat for a rear-facing seat to be installed
o Can be installed and secured easily for all caregivers (front adjust harness, premium latch connectors, built-in lock-offs)
4. What resources are available to ensure every child is properly restrained while in a vehicle?
- Each car seat comes with a detailed user guide on proper use and installation.
- Most car seat manufacturers have videos for proper installation and use of their car seats.
- If a caregiver would like additional information after reviewing the provided resources, a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) can be located by visiting http://www.nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.cfm.
o A CPST will help a caregiver ensure they have their car seat properly installed and their child correctly secured. CPSTs are educators, not service providers, so they will empower the caregiver with the knowledge to feel confident that they can achieve a correct install themselves.