Carseats are a tricky business….one that many parents fail to utilize properly. Some just dont know and have never been told what is, and isn’t ok, While others just honestly dont care and have the “Well I wasn’t in a carseat AT ALL and I’m fine” attitude. Over two-thirds of carseats are not even installed correctly and if I had to guess I would say even more then that are not being used properly. There are a few simple and easy rules that every parent should know to keep their kids as safe as possible in the car.
The first thing everyone should do when they get a new carseat is READ THE MANUAL. I know it’s boring and most people throw it into a drawer and never look at it again, but there is some incredibly important information in there that you should know about the device that will hopefully keep your child alive in the event of an accident. Read it…read it cover to cover and re-read it if you need to. Know your carseat. The second thing everyone needs to do is make sure your carseat is installed properly. I recommend that everyone visit a safekids certified carseat installer in your area to have your seat installed and to learn how to install it yourself properly. It will only take about an hour of your time and you can leave KNOWING your carseat is installed properly. Many police stations and/or fire stations have certified carseat techs on staff or you can look for one in your area here. The carseat when installed should not move more then 1″ side to side or front to back. Grip the carseat and tug firmly back and forth….it.should.not.move.
Most of the rest of this info all goes back to READ YOUR MANUAL…but in the event that you didnt listen 😉 here is some info you probably missed. There are 2 ways to install a carseat. LATCH which stands for lower anchors and tethers for children and the seatbelt. Unless your manual says otherwise (and there are only a couple of seats that allow this and all are infant seats as far as I know) you CANNOT use both LATCH and the seatbelt to install your seats. Despite the theory that with 2 belts it must be safer….it isnt safer. It actually makes the seat less safe but effecting the ride down time of the child and the way the seat is designed to move in a crash…and placing all the force onto the childs neck and shoulders. Do NOT use both. In addition LATCH has a weight limit. In general it’s 40 lbs but it depends a lot on the seat and the LATCH system in your car. Some cars allow LATCH past 40 lbs but the seats LATCH may not be rated past 40 lbs. So again…READ YOUR MANUAL, and also your cars manual if you plan to use LATCH. I also believe using the top tether is very important. It is the last line of defense in the event that there was a failure in the LATCH or the seatbelt.
These are probably the most common errors that I see….the straps not being tight enough and the chest clip not being high enough. This image does a good job of illustrating both the wrong and right way for both of these issues. The general rule for harness tightness is being able to fit 2 fingers. I never really understood what they meant by “2 fingers” so I always used the pinch test as a guide. If you can pinch the strap between your fingers….your harness is to loose….additionally the chest clip should be even with their armpits, it’s called a chest clip and not a tummy clip for a reason.
Another common issue I see, is the harness strap placement. When rearfacing the harness needs to be AT or BELOW the shoulders, and while forward facing the harness needs to be AT or ABOVE the shoulders. Using a pencil or ruler at the shoulders is a good guide for seeing where the shoulders hit on the carseat. Make sure you KNOW the height limit of your seat and that your child is not to tall for the seat they are in. A general rule for convertibles and forward facing is when the tops of the ears are even with the top of the shell, the shoulders are above the top slots, OR when the weight limit is reached. The Diono Radians have a slightly different rule, but this is the general rule. For rearfacing the rule is the top of the head must be 1″ from top of shell for MOST rearfacing carseats for them to be to tall. Exceptions are: the Complete Air has a strict 40″ total height rule and the Diono Radian is 1.5″.
Your probably wondering to yourself, well when IS IT ok for my child to not use a carseat at all? While I recommend that you keep your child in a harnessed seat as long as possible, there is a 5-step tes for when you think your child may be ready to not use a booster any longer.
- Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
- Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
- Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
- Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
- Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If the answer to ANY of these questions is No…they are not ready and they should continue to be placed in a booster or 5-point harness seat while traveling in a vehicle.
Aftermarket parts….this tends to be a hot button issue that people get offended over. I am not telling you that you are a bad parent for using these items….however I am telling you that aftermarket products negate your warranty (in the manual) and compromise the safety of the carseat. These products have not been tested with the carseats and anything that goes behind, the baby, interferes with the harness or attaches TO the harness are going to effect the way it is designed to work. The biggest culprit is the Bundle Me…not only does it add a squishy layer of fabric and padding behind the baby but it completely interferes with the harness (I know because I owned one once upon a time). If your worried about the cold and your baby, there are many wonderful shower cap style infant carseat covers that do not effect the way the carseat works. If you already have a bundle me? Cut out the back of it and serge the edges and turn it into a shower cap style like cover. If your worried about your babies head bobbing around and your seat didnt come with a head support pillow…. use a rolled up towel or receiving blanket not the after market pads. If your worried about drool or spit up on your carseat straps….this burp rag/bib thing is the BEST INVENTION EVER. I wish I would have known about these 3 kids ago. You can also cut the toes off of socks and slip them over the straps.
Infant seats should NEVER be put on top of the shopping cart. This all goes back to read your manual which will tell you this also. Grocery carts were not designed to have the infant seats on top. In fact, the AAP recommends that NO CHILD regardless of age be put into the top of the cart. It greatly effects the center of gravity of the cart which effects the safety of your child. Most carts even say ON the cart itself not to put your infant seat up there. 26,000 children are SERIOUSLY injured every year from improper use of shopping carts. Dont let your baby be one of them!
Finally….coats and carseats. Another hot button issue but it needs to be known….YOU CANNOT WEAR WINTER COATS OR SNOW SUITS IN CARSEATS. No one should wear a coat in the car actually, especially in cold climates where we wear big squishy winter coats. In an accident, that squishy layer that keeps us warm, compresses and allows the child or person to be ejected during an accident. Not to mention it interferes with the harness and the tightness of it. So you may be saying “But it’s freezing here…they have to wear coats”….I live in WI…I know ALL ABOUT cold weather. It is not an excuse for allowing them to wear coats in their seats. Is it a horrible pain in the ass to warm the car up before you plan to go out? To make you always have blankets in there? To get them into the car and take their coats, strap them in and have to get their coats on when you plan to get out? Yup it sure is…I have 4 kids I get that. What I dont get is putting convenience over a childs safety. It is not ok to use coats in a carseat…ever. If your still worried, thin fleece jackets and snow suits work great in carseats and are not bulky under winter coats. Old navy and Columbia usually have really great infant fleece buntings and large selections of fleece jackets for all ages.
Keep your kids safe, buckle them up properly!