Do’s and Don’ts of Car Seat Safety
The Blueberry Pediatrics Blog

Do’s and Don’ts of Car Seat Safety

Kristen Borchetta
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Shopping for car seats can be extremely overwhelming! There are so many products on the market, and it can be hard to know what the right choices are- not to mention how expensive everything is! Car seats are a prime example where high price does not always equate with the best choice. In addition, once you choose a car seat, it’s equally important to use them the right way to make car rides as safe as possible. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to consider when choosing a car seat and using it safely.

DO choose the safest type of car seat for your child’s age

Children should be in rear-facing car seats until age 2-4. Forward-facing until at least age 5. Booster seats once they out grow forward-facing seats or until the seat belt fits properly.

As your child ages and grows, so should their car seat. I know kids grow so fast, but keeping up with their car seat requirements will keep them safe and secure. For infants and toddlers, rear-facing seats or convertible seats offer the most protection from head and spinal cord injuries. When your child turns 2 and has outgrown the maximum weight and height limits on their rear-facing seats, it’s time to put them in a front-facing seat.

Children should remain in a convertible seat with a harness for as long as possible, to the highest weight and height allowed by the manufacturer (most go up to 65lb or more). Once your child outgrows their forward-facing seat, use a belt-positioning booster seat until they are tall enough that a normal seat belt fits well. This typically occurs when they are 4-foot-9 inches tall at about 8-12 years old. Additionally, I know kids beg to sit up front, but until they turn 13 years old, keep them in the back. (For more information on child growth, check out this article!)

DO make sure car seats are installed properly

Use the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) to install the car seat. Check your owners manual for LATCH weight limits. Or use the vehicles seat belt by placing it through the back and/or bottom of child safety seats as indicated in the user's manual. Make sure the seatbelt is buckled and locked.

There are two main ways to secure a car seat: the LATCH system and the seat belt installation. Both ways provide equal amounts of safety, so choose the way that allows you to secure your car seat the best, and don’t use both simultaneously unless the manufacturer says it’s ok. Furthermore, the middle of the backseat is generally regarded as the safest, but it’s ok to use the window seats if the middle seat does not have safety hookups or is uneven. A few more ways to ensure your child is safe include:

  • Pulling the belt tight! Apply weight into the seat with your hand or knee while tightening the seat belt or LATCH strap. Once installed, it should not move more than an inch from side to side.
  •  Ensuring the seat is at the correct angle using the built-in recline indicator present on all rear-facing seats. This will keep your child’s head from flopping around.
  • Having your installation checked by a professional! As parents, we second-guess all the time, so use these lists of certified child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs) and fitting stations available on the following websites: NHTSA Parents & Caregivers and National Child Passenger Safety Certification.

DON’T use old, refurbished, or used car seats or seats involved in a crash

I know it’s tempting to re-use an old seat, but they do expire! Check the label for the manufacturing and expiration dates. Use the model number to check for recalls. If your car seat has been recalled or the label is not present, it may not be safe for use. Cracks or missing parts also decrease safety, so be sure to inspect your car seat. Finally, replace car seats after every vehicle crash, and avoid used car seats with no safety history. Your motor vehicle insurance should cover the cost to replace the car seat after a crash.

DO make sure the straps are positioned properly

Rear-facing seats require that the straps are at or below the child's shoulders. Front-facing seat harness straps should be at or above shoulders.

Here are some quick tips to make sure the straps fit!

  • Place harnesses (rear-facing seat) in slots that are at or below your child’s shoulders.
  • Harness should be snug enough that you cannot pinch any slack between your fingers when testing the harness straps over the child’s shoulders.
  • Place the retainer clip at the center of the chest at the level of your child’s armpits.

DON’T add anything to the car seat that can alter its ability to protect your child

A child should wear thin layers while in a car seat. Place a blanket or jacket over them and the buckled harness.

Of course, you want your little one to be comfy cozy, but extra padding or inserts cause more problems. Only use padding or inserts that came with the seat or were made by the manufacturer for use with that specific seat. Also, bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, can compress and leave the straps too loose to restrain your child safely, which can increase the chance of injury in an accident! For safety and warmth, dress your child in thin layers and lay a blanket or coat on top of the buckled harness straps.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s safety (or anything else!), please reach out to us at any time.