Four out of five car seats are incorrectly configured for safety, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign. For this reason, doctors, parents, childcare workers and others have been working diligently for years to raise national awareness about car seat safety.
You may be asking yourself: Why is this such an important issue? Are your kids really at risk? While you may feel that the chances of getting into a car accident are low, the fact is hundreds of kids under the age of five are killed in car accidents each year and over 30,000 sustain injuries annually.
With a few simple adjustments, your kids can ride safely and you can relax, knowing that if anything were to happen, you've done your best to ensure they're protected.
Are you making any one (or more) of these six common car seat mistakes parents often make?
The seat belt is too loose – The seat belts found on car seats are designed to hold your child safely in the seat in the event of an impact. If the belt is too loose, your child can sustain injuries from jostling in the seat, or worse, be thrown from the seat altogether. You shouldn't be able to pinch any slack from the seat belt if it's fitted properly. Keep it snug.
Turning forward too soon – Once a toddler starts to grow, many parents feel anxious about making them cram into a rear-facing seat, which can force kids to fold their legs to sit. Even so, experts advise that kids not be turned front-facing until they have reached a certain height and weight (check your seat's instructions for more information). The strongest part of your child's body—her back—absorbs impact in an accident. If the child is facing forward, her head will put tremendous pressure on her spinal cord, which could lead to paralysis or death.
Loose anchor – Just like your child should be snugly restrained in the seat, the seat itself should be anchored snugly to your car. Whether you use a seat belt or make use of the latch or anchor clips (recommended), the straps should be pulled as tightly as possible, with no slack. If too loose, the seat will rock and rattle, and your child can smack face-first into the seat in front of him.
Using an outdated car seat – Did you know that car seats have an expiration date? If your child's car seat was a hand-me-down, or purchased from a second-hand store or yard sale, it's time to pay for an upgrade—it's worth it. Car seats that are expired, or recalled, or those that have been purchased second-hand, can put your child at serious risk. Recalled car seats can have issues ranging from faulty pieces to flammability. Used ones may have been in a car accident. If you don't know your car seat's history, or if it has been recalled or is expired (check the seat's sticker), play it safe and spring for a new one.
Upgrading too fast – When you have another child on the way, you may be tempted to upgrade your toddler to a more mature car seat, like a booster, but experts warn that you resist temptation. Moving your child to a booster seat (backless or with a back), or worse, allowing them to ride without one is a big mistake. Take a booster's height and weight requirements with a grain of salt and err on the side of caution. Just because a booster may say it's safe for kids starting at 36", for example, doesn't mean it's safest, especially if your kid still fits in the car seat.
Keep kids in their car seats until they fully outgrow them.
Wrong placement in the car – While most parents already know that placing kids in the front seat of a car is dangerous, what happens when you're in a large truck? Is your child safer? It is still recommended that you place your child in the middle seat in the back to reduce the chance of injury during a side crash. If you have to put your kid in the front row, say you have a two-seater truck, make sure airbags are deactivated. If they deploy, airbags can kill or maim your child.