Safety is Best! :: A Child Passenger Safety Tech’s Guide to Car Seats

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This post is sponsored by Olmsted Medical Center

Car seats!

Social media and parenting websites are full of questions and comments about them. Our friends rave about theirs being the best one. We get mixed messages about how long to use them and which ones to use. The good news is that you can find excellent resources in your community and at your fingertips!

First, some facts:

Did you know that car accidents are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13 years old? About 80%  of car seats are not used properly, which means that most children are not riding safely.

It’s scary to think about, since we drive our kids around almost every day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), properly restrained children have less risk of fatal injury in a crash by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers. Injuries and deaths can be prevented.

 

Choosing the Right Seat

There’s no best and safest car seat. The most important criteria is that the seat fits your child properly, is easy for you to use, and fits your vehicle correctly.

All car seats are tested to rigorous safety standards. The most expensive AND least expensive car seat provide the same protection for your child if used correctly every time. There are features on car seats that make them easier to install and harness, increasing your child’s safety. You can find child safety seat ease of use ratings on NHTSA.

Familiarize yourself with your car seat by reading the manual. The manual and stickers on your car seat give you specific information on special features as well as height and weight limits.

Your child might outgrow his car seat quickly, so it’s important to have the right fit. Your first car seat is either an infant or a convertible seat. Convertible seats are much larger than infant seats, used for rear and forward facing, and suitable for longer use. Many stores will let you try the car seat out in your vehicle to make sure it fits.

 

Proper Installation and Harnessing

Always install your seat using your car seat manual AND vehicle manual. Most installation and harnessing guidelines apply across the board, but many car seats have unique features specific to that seat. In addition, every vehicle has unique guidelines to where and how a car seat is installed.

 

A few key tips:

  • Use either a seat belt OR L.A.T.C.H. (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. Very rarely can you use these together. Either one is safe to use as long as it’s used correctly.
  • Make sure the seat doesn’t move more than one inch side-to-side and front-to-back. Once installed, you can test this by moving the seat (or base) at the belt path. If it’s loose, use your body weight to press the seat or base in more securely.
  • Rear face as long as possible. Rear facing seats absorb crash forces better than forward facing. AAP guidelines recommend rear facing up to age two and beyond. Infant car seats always rear face and convertible car seats can be used from infancy into toddlerhood, often into preschool and early grade school.
  • No snow suits or bulky coats and jackets. These items make the harnessing too loose, increasing the risk of ejection in case of an accident.
  • Ensure a snug fit using the “pinch test.” Pinch the top of the harness. If you get slack, continue to tighten until there’s no slack. Also make sure the chest clip sits at armpit level.
  • Use the 5-point harness as long as possible. Look at height and weight requirements for harness use. There’s no rush to transition to an adult seat belt within these requirements. Keeping a child in the harness as long as they fit is safest.
  • Keep kids in booster seats until age 8 or 4’9.” When your child outgrows his car seat, make sure he still gets a booster. Sitting in a booster ensures that the adult seat belt sits at the child’s hips, not his soft abdomen. Children under the age of 12 should never ride in the front seat. Front passenger air bag deployment is a hazard for small bodies.

 

There’s so much to know about keeping kids safe in car seats. After installing your car seat, it’s recommended to have it inspected by a child passenger safety technician. Many community organizations such as hospitals, clinics, and public health departments perform inspections and provide education. These inspections are usually free and open to anyone with a child passenger.

Safe travels!

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Olmsted Medical Center’s Prenatal & Family Education’s Certified Passenger Safety Technicians offer car seat inspections through individual appointments. Call 507.529.6759 to set up an appointment. (NOTE: This service is currently suspended during the pandemic.)

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