Amy Damashek, Ph.D. Western Michigan University, Department of Psychology
Keeping kids safe in the car is important, especially since motor vehicle accidents are among the top four leading causes of death for children ages 0-18. Fortunately, when used properly, infant and child car seats are very effective in protecting children and reduce fatal injuries by up to 71%. Unfortunately, however, many (more than 70%) of well-meaning caregivers use car seats improperly. As many parents of young children know, the ins and outs of proper car seat use can be a bit challenging to navigate. In the first place, choosing the right car seat can be overwhelming. Then, to make matters more complicated, children need different types of car seats as they grow, and the rules for proper use change for each new seat! The good news is that there is a great deal of information available to make this process a bit easier. Please keep reading to find out more.
First, let’s start with infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride in rear facing car seats for as long as possible. The most recent guidelines recommend that infants ride rear facing until the age of 2, or until they have reached the maximum height and weight limits for their car seat. For newborns, parents can purchase either a rear facing only infant car seat or a convertible car seat. Infant car seats can be used until the infant reaches around 30 pounds and 30 inches in height (varies by car seat), which typically occurs around 8-9 months. Convertible car seats can be used longer, as both a rear facing and a front facing seat, once the child is old enough. Some parents like the infant car seats because they have a handle and can be easily removed from the car and clicked into a compatible stroller. The convertible car seats have a range of weight limits (ranging from 40-110 pounds), so it’s important to check the weight limit of your child’s seat to know when it’s time to transition them to a new seat. Once your child outgrows the front facing car seat, your child should ride in a booster seat. Booster seats should be used until your car’s seat belt fits the child properly without a booster (belt fits snuggly on the hips and thighs, not on the stomach). Children may need to use a booster seat until the age of 12, depending on their size. All-in-one car seats can be used as a rear facing and front facing seat and can then be converted into a booster seat as children get older. It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children continue to ride in the backseat until age 13.
The National Highway and Traffic Administration and Safe Kids USA both have helpful information about choosing a car seat online, see http://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm and http://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/car-seat. Use caution with used or older car seats. Car seats should be discarded after 6 years, and a car seat that has been in use during a car accident should be replaced. Moreover, it is important to make sure that older car seats have not been recalled. When you buy a new car seat, make sure to register it so that you will be notified about recalls. You can also check for recalls at the following website: https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats.
If the price of a new car seat is a concern for your family, your community may have a free or reduced price car seat program. There are several places that might have information about options in your community. You can call 2-1-1 and speak to someone who will provide you information about resources in your local community. In addition, you can check with WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), local hospitals, the police or fire department, and local churches to see if they provide car seats or have information about where you can get one locally. Finally, insurance companies, including Medicaid, often offer free car seats.
Once you’ve chosen a car seat, it is critically important to make sure to install the car seat properly. You should read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. In addition, the National Highway and Traffic Administration has online tutorials and videos to help guide parents in car seat installation, see http://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/How-To-Install-Car-Seats.htm. One of the easiest ways to ensure that your car seat is installed properly is to have it checked by a certified car seat technician. Often times, you can contact your local fire station to make an appointment with a certified technician. In addition, the website http://www.seatcheck.org/ has a search engine that you can use to locate local technicians. You call also call 1-888-SEAT-CHECK.
The final important piece of safe car seat use is buckling your child in the seat correctly. Make sure to read the guidelines for your car seat. It’s important that the straps and the harness are placed correctly. Moreover, it is recommended that infants and toddlers do NOT wear winter coats or snow suits while in their car seat. Bulky clothing can compress in a crash, leaving the straps too loose, and increasing the likelihood of injury to your child. Car seats weren’t designed to work for children wearing bulky winter clothes. Instead, you can place a blanket over the straps of the car seat once the child is buckled in. For new parents, your hospital may offer a short class about safe car seat use. Moreover, often parents are required to show that they have a new car seat before leaving the hospital with a newborn. This is a good time to enlist the help of a nurse to make sure that you have your baby buckled in appropriately. Safe Kids USA and HealthyChildren.org have helpful tips about buckling your child up. See: http://www.safekids.org/car-seat or
Overall, safe car seat use can seem overwhelming, but most of the work occurs up front. Once you pick a car seat, get it installed, and figure out how to buckle your child in, you’re set to go! Just make sure to keep an eye on the seat’s weight restrictions and your child’s growth, so you know when to switch seats. Safe travels!
Proper citation link for this blog post:
Damashek, A. (2016, May 5). Keeping Kids Safe in the Car: The Ins and Outs of Car Seats. Retrieved from http://infoaboutkids.org/blog/keeping-kids-safe-in-the-car/.