Car Seat Safety: Protect Your Kids!

In an earlier blog I wrote about choosing the proper car seat and some suggestions to help make it easier. In this blog I’m going to get a little mom crazy. I can’t tell you how many people I see using a car seat wrong! The worst part about it is I often see this on pictures via facebook. Your car seat IS NO GOOD if your child is buckled in the seat wrong or the car seat is not installed properly. With that said, forgive me if this blog may seem a bit harsh, but a lot of these things are simple and self explanatory if we just took the extra time to adjust straps or to read a installation guide. I’m going to be talking about the most commonly over looked things about having or using a car seat improperly.

Expiration Dates:
ALL, yes ALL, no I’m not kidding, yes yours too, ALL car seats expire. SOMEWHERE on your car seat will be a date of when your car seat expires. It might be on a sticker, it might be engraved into the plastic somewhere, but I promise you, there WILL be an expiration date. As an early mom I knew there were expiration dates however, I never really understood why. Most car seats expire due to normal wear and tear. The plastics can wear down, the foam lining can wear down, even the straps can wear down. All of these things can be life threatening if the car seat is in a car accident. A car seat is only effective if all the components are in perfect working order. The average expiration date is 5 years, FROM when the car seat was MANUFACTURED- NOT purchased!, however, there are certain car seats that now hold longer dates. Every car seat is different even if it’s by the same manufacture. The expiration date has been set based of that individual car seat and model.

Installation of car seats:
There are typically two ways to install a car seat. You can use the LATCH (or something similar, whatever that particular car seat comes with) or the traditional seat belt. To insure you get the proper installation of your car seat, consult the owner’s manual of your vehicle AND your car seat. Both together will ensure you get the proper installation. Some older model cars may not offer the proper LATCH receivers so that might not always be an option. When installed properly the seat belt and LATCH provide the same amount of safety.  Always remember that even the most expensive car seat is only as good as the installation. If you install a $400 car seat improperly it won’t be ANY good in a car crash. Even the fancy car seats don’t have brains and can’t react to counteract your improper installation. When you are done with installing your seat, or have questions, consult a certified car seat installation expert. Most local fire stations or police offices can help with this also and if they can’t or aren’t certified they can likely point you in the direction of the nearest person who can help. One MAJOR thing to keep in mind: I have yet to hear of a hospital that can help you install a car seat upon getting ready to bring baby home. It is a liability to the personnel/hospital if you get in an accident. Installing the car seat is something you should do earlier rather than later because babies don’t ever come when they are supposed to! Every car seat installs differently in every car. So even if you buy multiples of the same car seats make sure they are installed properly for EACH car and the best way to ensure this is to consult your owners manual.

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Buckles and Safety Belts:
Do I hear a few chuckles in the crowd? This would be the section that I was referring to, this should be self explanatory, however this is the #1 thing I seen done wrong in car seats. Let’s start with the most obvious. Folks, we have several components of the car seat: the straps, the chest clip and the crotch buckle. My favorite of all is the chest clip. It’s not a tummy clip, or a neck clip, or a belly button clip, or a sternum clip, it’s a chest clip. Most car seats these days even put PICTURES on the chest clip to ensure the proper placement of this clip. If your car seat wasn’t nice enough to put a picture on your chest clip, just think back to its name:  chest… clip. The clip should lay firmly (without being too tight) across your baby’s CHEST, right across their nipples if you will. In the event you let the chest clip lay below the chest at the belly range it could be fatal in the event of a car crash. If you have the chest clip up too high, this could be fatal in the event of a car crash. Remember my explanation of the car seat is only effective if all the parts are in perfect working order? That includes these components also! If your car seat is 100% properly installed yet your baby is wearing the chest clip at their belly your baby could be severely harmed in the event of a car crash! Now we’ll move on to something a bit less self explanatory: the straps of the car seat and their placement. You’ll notice on the back of baby’s seat there will be several notches for the straps to come from. General rule of thumb is that the straps should meet or be below the shoulders (image A below). If the straps are ABOVE baby’s shoulders (image B below), your baby could be ejected from the car seat in the event of a crash. Always consult your car seat owner manual to get their reference on how that car seat’s buckles should be used.  Most car seats will also have several position slots for the crotch buckle. Make sure to adjust appropriately so the seat is tight yet not painful. As far as the straps, you want them to be tight. These are what are holding your baby safe in the event of a crash. Your automobile seat belt will auto lock on the event of a car crash holding you tight to your seat, however your child’s car seat won’t have the same reaction. You need to make sure the straps are tight before taking off.  The straps should not make your child sit funny in his seat or have to slouch down. He should be able to sit comfortably.

Choosing the proper car seat for your child:

It can often be confusing when to switch your child up a to a different car seat. I’ve linked here a website that shows the laws by state of when your child can legally transition in their seat. http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/childsafety_laws.html Keep in mind that YOU ARE THE PARENT and just because the law says that your child can go from a harness to a booster with a seat belt DOES NOT MEAN THEY HAVE TO! As long as your car seat can SAFELY accommodate your child’s height and weight, you can leave them in a harness EVEN if the law says they can use a seatbelt. It is becoming more and more popular to see harnesses that extend past the 40 pound mark so if you plan to have your children extended harness users then make sure you purchase a car seat that can accommodate this! Every car seat has height and weight requirements. Children must be at least ____ pounds and ____ tall before they can use certain car seats and on that same note, most car seats have a ‘top out’ level where if the child exceeds the height or weight the car seat may no longer be safe for that child. My son is on the smaller side, always has been, since birth, he could technically fit in his sisters infant seat based off his weight! My daughter has always been on the bigger side, so she might be out growing certain car seats quicker than he would (age vs. weight/height). These are things to keep in mind when you’re considering a car seat upgrade. In the state that I live in, car seat laws are primary. That means that a police officer can pull me over JUST for my car seats. In some states, they are secondary laws, meaning that you have to be pulled over for something else and then the cop can investigate the car seats in your vehicle.

Using international car seats:
Living in a military town this is something I see quite often. We have a lot of military personnel who get stationed in over seas locations. CAR SEATS ARE NOT TRANSFERABLE. You can not sell/use car seats purchased in foreign countries in the United States. The seats are built differently, under different safety standards and they are not legal in the United States. If you do long term international travel please make sure to check with the local car seat laws. Vacationing is different than long term staying. Please keep that in mind! Always double check for local car seat laws when doing international travel.

The bottom line of car seat safety is this: It is not meant to be an inconvenience to you, nor is it meant to insult your parenting or make you feel as though the government is trying to tell you how to parent. These laws and restrictions are out there by crash EVIDENCE. This information is based off crash testers and lives lost. Car seats are serious business and I see too many parents who take them lightly. Even ‘just running to the store’ a serious accident CAN happen. I have seen many, many parents ‘rebel’ against car seat suggestions and get offended and pull the line of “it’s my child and I’ll put them in whatever seat I think they are ready for”. That’s all fine and well but when you get in a serious accident and your child wasn’t in the ‘recommended’ car seat for their height and weight, whose fault is it going to be then? Are you then going to blame the government for not making you more aware of the risks of car crashes? PLEASE EDUCATE yourself about car seat laws and safety in your area! Your child is not born with a safety manual, it’s your job to do your homework! Here’s a little wake up call for ya.. check out my image I created at home.

The photo on the far left would seem “safe” right? Baby is more comfortable this way right? Gives him a little wiggle room. The straps don’t look that loose.. Well friends, observe what followed after I asked the kiddo to “get out”.. Imagine what COULD have happened had his belts looked like that in a high speed impact crash!
Author’s Note: It has been brought to my attention about a few things so far. #1 I did not make it clear that I AM NOT an expert on this. I am mom with some really unfortunate friends who can’t properly (or even close to properly) buckle their kids in car seats. #2, The rules and laws I am talking about in this article are referring to United States laws only. I reside in the United States so I have no familiarity with International laws. With that said, one of the biggest points brought to my attention was the fact that car seats DO NOT expire in international countries like the Untied States. Even with the United States laws please check your local laws as I am not an expert on those. I know what the laws are for my state. Refer to the link I included to find a more complete listing of all local United State laws. #3, I should have been more clear in the strap placement section. When I mentioned that straps need to be at or below the shoulder this was referencing forward facing placement of the car seat. In the instance of rear facing placement the straps need to be slightly BELOW the child’s shoulders. If the straps are falling off the shoulders it is likely that the placement is too low. As I said in the blog, refer to your owners manual for the exact placement for your car seat. Above all, have your seat checked by a certified car seat technician to ensure you have the proper fit in all situations.

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