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95 Percent of Parents Misuse Infant Car Seats; Are You One of Them?

The Short of It

Most parents are making major mistakes when it comes to installing and positioning infant car seats, according to a new study published in the "Journal of Pediatrics."

The Lowdown

Many studies have found parents aren't using car seats properly. Now new research finds 95 percent of parents make at least one infant seat mistake that increases the chances of a baby getting hurt during normal travel.

According to researchers, improper use of infant seats has become a frightening epidemic. The study surveyed 291 moms between the ages of 25 and 34 and other caregivers, and also had certified child passenger safety technicians observe them as they installed their seats. Incredibly, just five percent of the families studied made zero mistakes. And half of the participants were not even first-time parents!

But don't feel too crummy. Dr. Alisa Baer, a pediatrician and certified child passenger safety instructor, says, "Car seats are more difficult to use than people give them credit for. Most parents don't even read the instruction manual that comes with a car seat."

Based on recommendations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, here are the mistakes parents made:

  • 86 percent of families positioned the newborn incorrectly in the seat.
  • 77 percent incorrectly installed the seat.
  • Over a third positioned the harness retainer clip too low.
  • 69 percent of babies had a loose harness.
  • Two out of five seats had an incorrect recline angle.
  • A third used the incorrect harness slot.

Researchers also found:

  • One in five families installed a non-regulated seat.
  • 44 percent of seats moved more than one inch side to side.
  • Half of the seats that used seat belts did not have the seat belt retractor locked.
  • About a third had lower anchors that were too loosely attached.
  • Many used the incorrect seat belt path.
  • Many also incorrectly used lower anchors in the middle seat.
  • 11 percent had twisted straps, which can decrease straps' effectiveness in restraining a child in a crash.

The Upshot

Researchers say half of the parents in the study made five or more mistakes; just one in five made a single error. Eighty-nine percent of the mistakes were "critical" and would increase a child's risk of injury in a crash. Ninety-one percent of the mistakes were "serious" and might lead to a baby being harmed while driving, even without a crash.

As a result of the study, hopefully more programs will be developed to help educate parents on proper car seat use.

Incidentally, new guidelines were just released urging parents to switch a baby from an infant seat into a rear facing convertible seat by age 1. And pediatricians are also strongly advising parents to keep children rear-facing until 2 years old. 

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