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.