A whopping 80 percent of children are improperly restrained in safety seats, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) -- and many injuries and deaths caused by car crashes could be prevented if safety seats were used correctly.
5 Deadly Mistakes Parents Make
1. INSTALLING A CAR SEAT TOO LOOSELY
The safety seat should be fastened snugly against the vehicle's seat back. To secure a rear-facing infant seat, lean into the back of the seat with your arm or forearm while fastening the seat belt; with a forward-facing seat, push down into the seat with your knee. Once it's fastened, if the seat moves an inch or more forward or to the side, then it's too loose. Check that the seat is secure each time you use it.
For specific advice on how to use the seat correctly, carefully review the directions that come with the device and your vehicle's seat belt information in the owner's manual. Cars built before 1996 may require a locking clip (which positions the seat belt and keeps the seat snugly in position).
2. USING THE HARNESSES INCORRECTLY
Make sure the seat's harness straps are threaded through the proper slots. When seat is rear-facing, thread the straps at or below your child's shoulder level. When forward-facing, the harness should be threaded through the top slots in most seats. (Be sure to read the instructions for the particulars of your seat.) Harness straps must fit snugly without pinching the child's skin; you shouldn't be able to slide more than one finger between the strap and your child.
3. PUTTING RETAINER CLIPS IN THE WRONG PLACE
Seats with a retainer clip attached to the harness strap need to be fastened at the child's armpit level in order to keep the straps from slipping off your child's shoulder.
4. PLACING A BABY IN FORWARD-FACING SEAT TOO SOON
Leave your infant in a rear-facing seat until she's 1 year old and weighs at least 20 pounds. If your child reaches this weight limit well before her first birthday, switch to a convertible seat that holds up to 30 pounds in the rear-facing position.
5. NOT KEEPING A CHILD IN A BOOSTER SEAT LONG ENOUGH
Use a booster seat until your child can sit against the car's seat back with his knees bent at the seat's edge. The shoulder belt should fit with no slack, and without cutting across the face or neck. The lap belt should fit snugly across the top of his thighs. Never put a shoulder belt under your child's arm or behind his back.
Which Safety Seat Is Right for Your Child?
These seats are designed for rear-facing use to protect an infant's back, neck, and head.
Premature or very small babies, who can have trouble breathing when seated upright, may need to lie flat in an infant car bed certified for use in a vehicle. Check with your doctor before leaving the hospital. To provide extra support to any small infant, tightly roll a cloth diaper or a receiving blanket along the sides of the body, neck, or head. A tightly rolled towel between the infant and crotch strap can prevent slouching.
This can convert from rear-facing infant seat to forward-facing when a baby is at least 20 pounds and 1 year of age, and can typically be used until he's 40 pounds. When switching the seat for forward-facing use, install in the upright position and readjust the harness straps to the top slots.
Convertible seats have one of three types of harnesses:
- A five-point harness with straps at the shoulders, hips, and crotch
- A padded T-shaped shield attached to shoulder straps that buckle into the seat at the crotch
- A tray-like shield that swings down around the child. Experts say the five-point harness protects infants and toddlers best. The T-shield and tray-shield aren't recommended for small infants.
Belt-positioning booster seats are available in high- and no-back models for children from about 4 to 8 who have outgrown their safety seat (usually at around 40 pounds). You can tell if your child is too big for her seat if her shoulders are above the harness strap slots or her ears are above the back of the seat.
If your child's ears are above the top of the car's seat back when in a booster, a high-backed model (shown) will protect the neck. If the seat comes with a harness, use it for kids under 40 pounds. For kids above that weight, harness should be removed and the seat secured with the car's lap and shoulder belts.
You may come across a booster seat with a shield, once recommended when no shoulder belt was available. These no longer meet federal safety standards for children over 40 pounds and should not be used unless you remove the shield and secure the seat with the vehicle's lap and shoulder belts.