I'll be completely honest. I've never mastered the car seat installation. For five years I have been continually defeated by the car seat. I've always had my dad or my brother install my son's car seat because I could never seem to do it properly. It's kind of confusing, right? For me, the car seat is absolutely one of the biggest mom hassles and it's probably the most important to do correctly. If you are looking for some very important information about everything car seat safety, there are some easy-to-miss car seat hazards you may not know about. In the event of an accident, one mistake could have devastating consequences when it comes to car seat safety.
I reached out to child passenger safety technician Lisa Strickland to see what the common mistakes and misconceptions were about car seats, and some of her answers were shocking, but so helpful and informative. Some of these easy-to-miss hazards could mean the difference between having the best possible outcome in an accident situation, or not. We all want our kids to be safe and comfortable in the car, so make sure you avoid doing these eight things. The tips below just may help save a life one day.
1. Upgrading Too Soon
Strickland explains that in some states, children are legally required to be rear-facing until they are 2 years of age. The reason being is that rear-facing protects the head, neck, and spine and kids have softer spines and heavier heads. "A step up in car seat stages is a step down in safety, so it is best to stay in each stage for as long as possible." Strickland says. "The stages are rear-facing, forward-facing, booster seat, and seat belt." Keeping children in each stage for as long as possible is the safest way to go when it comes to car seat safety. Kids should not be riding without a booster until they are 4'9" tall and can properly fit into a seat belt.
2. Improper Clip Placement
It's easy to be overlook this one, especially if your child is complaining that they're uncomfortable with the clip and tightness of the straps. But Strickland suggests that the clip must be at chest level, around armpit height, and "the straps need to be snug to hold a child in during an accident." Allowing for loose straps or improper clip placement could have devastating consequences, so it's best to keep things on the safe side.
3. Cute Car Seat Covers
It's tempting to want to decorate your car seat or booster with your child's favorite color or characters, but Strickland says this is a mistake because "anything that didn't come with the car seat was not crash tested with the car seat, and can cause the car seat to fail in an accident." Yikes. Who would have thought?
4. Faulty Installation
This one might seem obvious, but for some reason, the car seat I bought didn't come with a manual (yup, that's right). The instructions were on the actual seat, and while they seemed pretty straight forward, it became confusing whenever I tried to install it because using the latch didn't make it secure enough, but using the seat belt didn't fit. Strickland tells Romper, "The most common installation mistakes include using both LATCH and seat belt together to install seats, using LATCH in the center of the vehicle when it is not allowed by the vehicle, and not locking the seat belt." Make sure you read the instructions very carefully and ask for help if needed. You can also search for installation videos online to help, but make sure you watch the correct video for your brand, model, and even year because safety standards are constantly being modified.
5. Pillows & Other Accessories
Adding pillows, accessories, or anything that did not come with the car seat when you bought it has not been crash tested, says Strickland. When adding accessories, even if it's lightweight, can be a risk of either causing the car seat to fail in a crash or become a projectile risk. Strickland explains that objects take on the force of the crash, "so even a 1-pound toy, in a 35 miles per hour crash, becomes 35 pounds." Pretty scary stuff. Strickland says that if moms feel their infant needs more head support, they can "roll up receiving blankets and place them on either side of the child. This is the only approved way of adding support, as it does not interfere with the harness."
6. Allowing Your Baby To Sleep In The Car Seat In The House
It's easy to just want to take your sleeping baby out of the car while in their car seat and leave them undisturbed, but Strickland advises against this because the positioning can lead to breathing issues. It's always best the take your child out of their seat and place them safely in their bed.
Believe it or not, car seats have expiration dates. If you're using the same car seat for every child, you're risking safety by using a potentially faulty care seat. Strickland explains that even plastic can deteriorate over time, making the seat less functional, which is highly unsafe. Make sure your car seat is undamaged and up to date with safety standards.
8. Wearing A Coat
In cold weather, it's hard to take off your child's coat when loading them into the car. But Strickland advises moms to take off their children's coats because "thick jackets and clothing is not allowed under seat belts or harness because in an accident they can compress and cause the child to be ejected." Instead, strap the child in properly, then you may cover them with blankets if they are cold.
Paying close attention to your child's car seat safety will help keep your child safe whether you're just driving to the store or on the highway for a long road trip with the family. Implementing these safety tips will also help keep your mind at ease behind the wheel. While sometimes accidents cannot be avoided, at least you can rest assured knowing your child is in the safest possible position, just in case.