A study recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics had certified child passenger safety technicians watch moms install and position their babies in car seats and found only five percent of them made no mistakes. Most of the 300 moms in the study were between the ages of 25 and 34. I’m 29 with an infant who I put in and out of a car seat every day so I couldn’t help but wonder if I was making any mistakes.
So I took my son and his car seat to Green Bambino (5120 N. Shartel) where owner Morgan Harris, a certified child passenger safety expert, agreed to perform a safety check for me. The check is complimentary to anyone who purchases a car seat at Green Bambino; she’ll offer the check to anyone else for a $30 fee. The check involves her uninstalling the seat and reinstalling it and then watching the parent position the child in the seat. Here’s what I discovered during the check.
Thankfully, I was actually doing everything right! But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t on my very best behavior with her watching. She helped me realize that my most common mistake would probably be failing to pull the chest clip up high enough. The chest clip should align with the child’s armpit. Too low and the child could be ejected from the seat in a crash. Too high and it could cause a neck injury. Many parents, myself included, have a tendency to be lazy with the chest clip placement, especially if they’re in a hurry or dealing with a very wiggly child.
Here are other tips I learned to help me avoid mistakes in the future:
I need to read the manual myself. My husband installed the seat so he had read the manual. But Harris pointed out the importance of everyone driving the car to know what’s in the manual and know how to install the seat.
“Don’t be afraid to practice putting the seat in and out,” she said. “You don’t want a breakdown on the side of the highway to be the first time you try to install your seat because it’s very likely you’ll make a mistake that could compromise his safety.”
Just because a car seat is highly rated doesn’t mean it’s the one for you. Harris pointed out that a seat might have great reviews or great safety ratings but it might not be the ideal fit for your specific car. Reviews and ratings can be helpful, but parents really only need to answer these three questions when shopping for a seat:
- Is it right for my baby? Check the seat’s guidelines to make sure it is a legal, safe place for your baby to ride in the car.
- Is it right for my car? Harris suggested always trying the seat in your own vehicle before purchasing. You should be able to tell at a glance if it will be a good fit. Make sure your car has lower anchors in the position you plan to put the car seat, for example, and that the car seat won’t encroach too far on the space the front seats have between them and the dashboard.
- Are you confident you can install it correctly every single time? All car seats are safe when used correctly but the biggest thing that separates cheaper and more expensive seats is ease of use. A caregiver should feel confident installing the seat and positioning the child every single time the seat is used.
- Don’t get in a hurry to go to the next stage. Keep your child in the lowest level stage as long as possible. Until you reach the maximum limit for the seat to be rear facing, for example, don’t turn the seat around. There are a lot of seats marketed for “birth to booster,” Harris said, but often times these compromise on one end or the other. Focus on the stage you’re in and only one stage ahead instead of trying to find a single seat to last every stage. If a seat is safe for an infant to rear face, for example, it’s probably going to leave a lot to be desired as a booster seat, she said.
- Pay attention to the expiration date. Most seats are made predominately or entirely with plastic. It breaks down over time, Harris said, especially in a car with temperature swings and UV exposure. The expiration is there to protect kids from being in a seat with plastic that’s broken down over time.
Note: This information doesn’t even go into all the more obvious things like laws regarding car seat safety. To read the basic car seat laws for Oklahoma, visit www.metrofamilymagazine.com/car-seat-law.