Whenever I start getting finicky with my kid’s car seat, my mom reminds me how I would sit in my dad’s lap as a child while he drove all over town. Sure those times were simpler, but they weren’t safer, which is why car safety rules have changed dramatically over the years. New parents quickly realize that the car seat manual needs to become their new best friend, because safety standards are pretty strict. After figuring out the proper angle and positioning, if you notice that seat is still wobbling, you may wonder, are car seats meant to move?
Romper reached out to baby expert and Certified Child Passenger Technician, Jessica Zablan, from the Birth and Baby Company, who says that car seats should not move more than one inch on each side. She explains that when you give the seat an inch of movement, it allows the car seat to move with the force of impact if there is a car crash. “We don’t make it so tight that there is zero movement,” says Zablan, “but we also don’t want it to move more than an inch from side to side.”
If your child’s car seat is installed loosely, where it moves more than an inch on each side, it can be dangerous during a car crash. In a safety test demonstration conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, researchers concluded that loose car seat installation can lead to a higher risk of injury to the child from the load put on them after the car stops, and because they can easily hit the front seat, the door, or other parts of the vehicle around them.
Why not tighten the seat as much as possible? Well it turns out that this might be the right way to go. If you are afraid of over-tightening, don’t be, because unless you are using a special tool, or superhuman strength, the likelihood is that you won’t be able to over-tighten your car seat due to the stretchiness of the belts, noted Car Seats For The Littles. The website did however mention that if you do manage to use tools, or have multiple people to help you over-tighten the belts, you could risk your child receiving the brunt of the force in an impact, and you can risk damaging your car and seat as well.
So, what is the best way to tighten your car seat? Parents noted that the easiest and most foolproof way to tighten your child's seat is to put your knee on the seat, pushing with all your weight, as you tighten the seat belt as much as you can, and then finish by locking the belt strap. However, because car seats and vehicles vary in style and tether type, it’s crucial to consult the manufacturer’s manual that came with your car seat, because it should provide the optimal installation and tightening methods.
Once you’ve installed and tightened your child’s seat according to the manufacturer’s directions, there is a simple way you can test the seat to see if it is tight enough. Zablan suggests using your non dominant hand (if you are right-handed, use your left hand and vice versa) to give the car seat a good shake at the belt path, not the shell. “If it moves more than an inch,” she adds, “you’ll have to make it tighter.”
If you are still confused or paranoid about your car seat install, Zablan suggests getting it inspected by a Child Passenger Safety Technician. You can find one by entering your location on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website or through the National CPS Certification Program's database.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.