Car seat safety has become even more important to me as yesterday I was in an accident with both my children and my fiance in the car. After picking up my car from the "shop" where they replaced two of my tires and rotated all of them, I heard a bumpy noise upon leaving the parking lot. I went to the gas station and then started back home. The sound got worse and the steering wheel started moving on its own. I slowed down to turn around and go back to the "shop" to have them check it out when my passenger side front tire flew off and across the sidewalk. Luckily, we were going less than 15 mph, but had we been going any faster, it could have been bad. Our seat belts and my children's car seats kept us from being thrown forward and to the right when the tire flew off.
Car Seat Safety Tips & Guidelines
- Never ever EVER alter your child safety seat in any way. This includes but is not limited to:
- Handmade or store bought custom car seat covers. Sure they're cute, but they aren't safe. Some manufacturers make different covers specifically for their car seats. This is fine because it's made by the manufacturer FOR that particular car seat.
- Head positioners. If your car seat comes with a head positioner it's fine to use it. You can also remove these as the car seat will have been tested with and without the positioner. However, if your car seat didn't come with one, DO NOT add one.
- Towels under harness straps. I honestly wasn't aware of this one, but apparently it's among the bad advice given to parents. Do not put ANYTHING between your child and the straps.
- Some manufacturers consider toy bars to be dangerous and use of them will void your warranty.
- Make sure your car seats safety straps are adjusted properly for your child. The rule (at least the one I have heard most often) is, if you're rear facing, the straps should be at the slot at or just underneath your child's shoulders and come up and over your child's shoulders. If you're forward facing the straps should be at or just above your child's shoulders.
- Never use puffy jackets or snowsuits with car seats. The rule is- if you have to adjust the straps to allow for the extra thickness of the jacket or snowsuit, it's dangerous. Try a thinner but warmer jacket or just put your child in warm clothing, strap them in, put a blanket over their body, and bring the jackets and snowsuits with (for going between the car and your destination and/or emergencies in cold weather). I know this one is harder for us mommas in colder climates, but it's safer. Your child can be thrown out of their jacket and their car seat. I've heard stories of children being thrown from the car seat but their jacket still being under the straps.
- This is one I don't understand, but I'm putting it here anyway, because it says so in my manual, and lots of mommas online brought this one to my attention as well. When driving, make sure the handle on an infant seat is down (and clicked down too, not just haphazardly pushed down- I get on my fiance's case all the time about this one).
- There should only be one inch or less of wiggle room at the bottom of the car seat or car seat base.
- Find a car seat that works for your child AND your vehicle. Some car seats don't work too well in some vehicles. For example, my daughters convertible car seat works great in my car, but it tilts and moves too much in my fiance's car. Some stores will let you test out car seats before you buy. Most will let you return a seat if it doesn't work for your child or vehicle.
- At least 80% of the car seats base should be on the vehicle's seat.
- Rear facing car seats should be at angled at 45 degrees or less. This is so baby's head stays in contact with the seat and their airways are kept open.
- Use the pinch test to make sure the harness straps are tight enough. You shouldn't be able to pinch the straps at the shoulder.
- In a five point harness seat, the clip should be at chest level, in between your child's armpits.
- Use either the cars latch system OR the seat belt to secure the car seat. Do not use both.
- Car seats generally expire after six years. Some expire after ten years, however. Please make sure by checking the expiration date of your car seat. A lot of seats will have the expiration date stamped on the bottom.
- Never buy or borrow a used car seat unless you are absolutely 100% sure of it's history. People selling things online or in a garage sale want to make money and probably wont be completely honest with you about when they bought it or if it's ever been in an accident.
- Once your car seat has been in an accident, it's time to replace it.
- Check your car seat frequently for signs of wear or damage.
- Only add toys to a toybar that you would be comfortable having hit your child in the head or face. Don't use hard toys. Toys can injure your child in a crash.
- Learn to lock your seat belts to keep the car seat installed tightly.
- Make sure you check the manufacturers instructions for cleaning your car seat. Bleach and rough washing can damage straps, buckles, and other parts, and you want those parts working properly if you're in a crash.
- Frighteningly enough, some car seat experts have seen people using duct tape and bungee cords to repair car seats or replace parts of car seats. I swear to God if any of you ever do this, or if I see anyone do this, I will literally explode and then haunt you for the rest of my life.
- Don't ignore the height and weight restrictions on your car seat. If your child is too heavy, the straps can pull through. If they're too tall, their heads wont be protected in a crash.
- If your child is tall, their legs bending or touching the back of the vehicles seat is NOT an excuse to switch to forward facing. That being said, I do know a woman whose 10 month old daughter literally has to sit almost completely cross legged when rear facing. I honestly can't find any information on what to do in that situation. However, I'm fairly certain that this situation is extremely rare.
- Don't put car seats on grocery carts unless the cart has a system specifically meant to secure a car seat (apparently these exist, I've never seen any though). Children have died when their parents hit a bump with the cart and the car seat falls off.
- Remember that anything loose in the car can be a potential hazard. Got a case of soda on the seat? Got an ice scraper in the back? In a crash, anything can fly anywhere, so it's best to put these things in the trunk or rear of an SUV/MiniVan.
- An old and outdated rule is that you should be able to fit two fingers between your child and the seat belt or harness straps. This is NOT true. The belt and/or straps need to be tighter than that. Use the pinch test to determine if the straps are tight enough.
- If you use your vehicles latch system, read your vehicles manual to make sure you know the weight limits and guidelines for using this system! Different vehicles have different guidelines so make sure you know the guidelines for YOUR vehicle.
- The safest place for a car seat is in the middle of the back seat. However, it's more important that the car seat be properly installed. If the seat can be more safely installed on a "window seat" then put it there. And obviously if you have more than one child, you can't do this. I have two children and always put the youngest in the middle.
- Always wear your own seat belt to be a good example for your children.
- I asked for input on Facebook and one lovely woman said: RYDM! (read your damn manual) I really like this, so I will repeat her advice, RYDM!
The most important thing I can add to this list is: If you're confused or unsure, find a car seat tech and have the seat properly installed and have them show you how to install it correctly!
Remember that contrary to popular belief, most police officers and firefighters are NOT trained in car seat safety. Always have your seat installation checked out by a certified car seat technician.