Parents want their young kids to be safe while riding in the car. That’s why they buy industry-approved child safety seats to protect their little ones during car trips. Of course, these safety seats have to be installed properly in order for them to work appropriately. And new research indicates that they probably aren’t.
The auto club AAA reports that about three out of every four child safety seats are incorrectly installed in vehicles. This is true despite the installation of user-friendly Lowers Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) systems, and safety seats that have been put into almost every vehicle made since 2002.
It’s in everyone’s best interest – consumers, manufacturers and auto insurance companies alike – for car seats to be installed properly. There are videos which have been made to show the proper technique for putting child safety seats into vehicles. But here’s a list of questions regarding the most commonly-made errors so parents can make sure that their children are secure in their safety seats.
- Is it the right safety seat? Child car seats are designed for different ages and sizes of kids; in other words, one size most definitely does not fit all. The first thing to check is whether your safety seat is age-appropriate for your youngster. Putting a child into a car seat that’s intended for someone younger or older can put him or her at risk of harm.
- Is the safety seat in the correct vehicle seat? Don’t ever put a child safety seat in the front passenger seat of a vehicle. The front seat is off limits for kids until they are big enough to ride up there. Until then, they ride in the back in their safety seat.
- Is the safety seat in the correct position in the back seat? Safety experts say that the safest place for a child safety seat is the middle rear seat of a vehicle. However, most vehicles don’t support the LATCH system for a child safety seat in the middle seat (check you vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out). If this is the case, the safety seat should be positioned in an outboard seat instead.
- Is the safety seat facing the correct direction? The goal is to position a child safety seat in the rear-facing position for infants and toddlers up to the age of two, or until they exceed the recommended weight of their seat (which is usually about 35 to 40 pounds). That’s because they are up to five times safer when riding facing backward. Older and heavier children can face forward in their appropriate safety seats.
- Is the safety seat’s LATCH system or an adult safety belt being used to secure the safety seat … but not both? Some parents think taking both measures keeps their child safer; but the opposite is usually true. Since safety belts are made to expand during a collision, the crash forces may be distributed incorrectly and cause injury or even death. So don’t use both methods (unless both the child seat manufacturer and the automaker say it’s okay to use both simultaneously).
- Is the correct LATCH system being used? If you have a convertible car seat, it’s equipped with a LATCH system for both forward-facing and rear-facing children. Check the safety seat manual to make sure you are using the correct system; otherwise, you’re jeopardizing the safety of your child.
- Is the safety seat secured well enough to the vehicle seat? Here’s how to find out: once the safety seat is secured with the vehicle safety belt, shake it briskly. IF there’s more of an inch of "give," then it needs to be fastened more tightly.
If you are still unsure about whether or not your car seat is correctly installed, visit your local police station. They are likely to have someone on hand who will be happy to take a look at it for you.