5 Important Car Seat Safety Tips

Before you leave the hospital you will need to have an infant car seat to safely take your newborn home in. Having a reliable car seat that is up to date with safety standards is vital for ensuring the safety of your precious cargo. Just as equally important is making sure you have it properly installed. To help ensure your baby is secure while going for a ride, here are some car seat safety tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

car seat

The Rules of Car Seat Safety

Here are a few things you need to know before taking your baby out in a vehicle:

  • Have the car seat correctly installed before going to the hospital. It is advised to purchase the seat and have in your vehicle 3 weeks prior to your due date.
  • All infants should be in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the vehicle. The recommended age to keep children rear-facing up to is 2 years.
  • seat beltFor both infants and toddlers be sure the chest piece is located at the chest! It should be level with the child’s armpit. This will help ensure proper placement of the straps. The shoulder straps should be set at the level of the shoulders or lower to prevent your child from sliding around.
  • The safest place for the car seat to be set up is the middle seat in the event of a side-impact collision. If this is not possible choose the seat placement that offers the safest choice for proper installation (just as long as it is not placed in the front)
  • Do not use a second-hand car seat unless you know for sure that it is up to date and meets federal safety regulations and that it hasn’t been in an accident. If you’re looking to save or on a tight budget check with a local consignment shop as they are required by law to only sell car seats that are in compliance with these regulations.
  • It is not advised to use any other products with your car seat that were not included at the time of purchase such as newborn inserts. These products can interfere with the function of seat and do not guarantee your child’s safety. Likewise, do not place your child in the seat while wearing heavy coats or bunting suits. The padding of these clothing items leaves giveaway between the child and the restraint in the event of a collision and could result in injury. During cooler seasons place your child into the seat first and buckle in then cover them with a blanket over the restraint.

Car Seat Installation

You may be surprised to learn the shocking fact that 3 out of 4 infant car seats put in by parents are improperly installed. According to a study by the NHTSA on installing car seats 95% of the individuals who participated failed to do so correctly. You can have the best top of the line car seat on the market but it won’t do much good in an accident if it’s inadequately set up. As a visual guide I’ve included a video on how to correctly install your child’s seat.

It should come as no surprise that infant seats are mistakenly put in. After all, they can be pretty complicated to figure out especially ones that come with a latch system. Here are a few car seat safety tips for proper installation to avoid common mistakes parents make.

1. Read the Manuals: It’s important to read not only the manual for the car seat but your vehicle owner’s manual as well. Because different vehicle models have various designs (with seat belt placement and latch systems) you should refer to the instructions in your vehicle’s manual in addition to the car seat installation instructions.

2. Be Sure the Car Seat Is Not Loose: This is really important because in the event of a crash if the seat isn’t securely anchored down it could result in injury to your child. When properly installed the seat should not move more than 1” in either direction. When strapping in the seat/seat base push down on it with your weight as you tighten the seat belt or anchor straps. If using the seat belt you may need a lock clip to ensure proper belt placement. Also, be sure the seat is securely locked in place every time with infant carriers by pulling on it to be sure it doesn’t come up out of the base.

3. If Using a LATCH System: Most new vehicles now come with a latch system for infant seats. If your seat has a latch belt pass them through the same path of the seat/base as you would the seat belt to provide a more secure set up. Do NOT use the LATCH system in conjunction to the seat belt. While many believe this provides added security in actuality it could cause further harm to your child. While the car seat should not move more than an inch it, if it anchored down to where it can not move at all the child will absorb more of the impact in a collision rather than the seat. Stick with just one method. The LATCH system has been found to be easier for installing and in many cases provides a more secure installation than a seat bel.

4. Be Sure Angle is Correct: for your rear-facing car seat, the angle at which it reclines should be between 30-45 degrees. A newborn can not support their head and if it falls forward it could pose a risk for obstructing the airway. The proper angle ensures safety for your newborn from this potential risk while still providing adequate safety in the event of a crash. Do NOT attempt to put something underneath the base such as a pillow to bring it up to the correct angle as this will compromise the safety of your car seat. 

5. Use the Top Tether for Forward-Facing SeatsForward facing car seats that have a top tether should be used to protect your toddler’s head and neck from injury. The top tether adds to the seat’s security by preventing it from going forward and should always be used in combination with the seat belt or the LATCH system.

After you have the car seat installed have it checked out at a car seat inspection station to ensure that it is correct. Even if you have followed the above car seat safety tips to a T it is still highly advised to be sure no mistakes are made. It doesn’t hurt to double-check your work to guarantee your child’s safety. You can find a local event in your area by visiting the NHTSA and entering your zip code or check with your local fire or police department if they inspect car seats.

If your seat doesn’t pass inspection or cannot be installed correctly using the guidelines mentioned above in addition to your manual’s instructions it may not be compatible with your vehicle. This is very possible due to the various designs in different models of vehicles and seats. At the time of purchase, check with the retailer’s return policy to see if they would accept an exchange if the car seat is not a good match for your vehicle and keep the receipt. For this reason it is also very important to have the seat put in prior to your due date.

*Always check the latest car seat recalls to ensure your child’s safety. We will never review or recommend products that are currently on recall; however a product we’ve mentioned previously may become recalled after the time the article was written. Always register your car seats as well as other infant gear immediately after purchasing to get updates from the manufacturer should your product become recalled.

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