It's difficult to escape the pervasive seat belt campaigns that run across the country. Each state has its own program to encourage drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) manages a nationwide campaign as well.
Seat belts aren't enough to protect the smallest vehicle passengers. Infants and toddlers must ride in car seats, and safety is a prime consideration in selecting and using one. Here's how to ensure your child is protected.
Avoid Buying a Used Car Seat
When you buy a used car, it's possible to acquire reports on whether the vehicle has ever been involved in an accident, and what damage it suffered. This affects the value of the vehicle, and possibly its integrity and safety if repairs were not done correctly, or were not done at all. Car seats are made to offer certain protections in the event of an accident, and just like a vehicle, an actual accident can put strain on the seat, rendering it less effective—or even completely ineffective—in the event of a subsequent accident.
If you buy a used car seat, how can you be sure it's never been involved in an accident? The answer is, you can't. You must rely on the word of the person or second-hand store selling you the car seat. An individual seller may not be honest about the seat's record in order to make a sale, and a thrift store may not know the history of a car seat in its inventory. In addition, you may be surprised to learn that car seats have expiration dates.
New car seats range in price from about $40 to nearly $500. Your baby's safety has no price. It's best to find a new car seat in your price range. Once you no longer need your car seat, look for a local recycling program to dispose of it properly.
Check for Recalls
Thousands of products are recalled every year because of malfunctions, defects, and safety issues. This includes numerous baby and child products like car seats. Before you buy a car seat, check to see whether the model you're interested in has been recalled. Several online resources exist to help you find this information. You can also sign up to receive alerts when products you specify have been recalled.
Learn How to Use the Car Seat
Buckling a seat belt is easy and requires no instruction. But installing a car seat can sometimes take a bit of doing, depending on the type and model. It may seem like a straightforward proposition, but ensuring the car seat is properly and securely fastened in your vehicle is the only way you can ensure your child's safety. If you're involved in an accident, and the car seat is not secured, the risk of injury—or even death— of your child grows exponentially.
Actually, the first step is to make sure you select the right car seat for your child. Some are meant specifically for infants, while others are convertible to grow with your child. Once you have the right car seat, carefully follow the instructions for correct installation. Getting into an accident would be traumatic enough without the possibility of your child being injured simply because the car seat was improperly installed.
Finally, the best way to protect your child is to consistently use the car seat. Your child may not always want to cooperate, and will eventually get to the point where he wants to sit in a regular seat like the grownups. Resist the temptation to allow this, no matter how much of a tantrum you may have to endure. Your child's safety outweighs the temporary relief that giving in would provide.
Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law. The Oklahoma City-based personal injury firm is focused on making the community safer, and is very involved in charity work and Lawyers Against Hunger.