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5 big mistakes parents make with child safety seats – and how to avoid them!

May 6, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

During National Youth Traffic Safety Month, remember to choose the right car seat and to have it properly installed

Choosing the right car seat and making sure it’s properly secured in your car is easier said than done – as anyone who ever saw me struggling to install a car seat for my children in a rental car knows.

But it isn’t just me. Most moms and dads struggle with installing car seats. And even the most well-intentioned parent can make mistakes on choosing the right car seat. Further adding to any parent’s angst is the incomprehensible instructions and challenging latch systems.

May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month. And that makes now a great time to reevaluate your child’s safety seat to make sure it’s properly installed.

Consider the following:

  • Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old (U.S. Department of Transportation).
  • An estimated 8,959 lives were saved by child restraints from 1975 to 2008 (U.S. Department of Transportation).
  • You can register your child car seat and receive notifications of defects and recalls. Find out how on Safercar.gov.

Well-meaning parents often make mistakes installing car seats, and that can have devastating and heart-breaking consequences for children injured in car accidents who are not properly secured in a car seat. As an attorney, I’ve been involved in tragic automobile accident cases that involved the death of a child.

Today I also wanted to review the five most common car seat mistakes made by almost every parent. Avoid these miscues and safeguard your children while on the road, knowing that a simple check now will create long-term peace of mind.

Mistake #1: Car seat too loose

Test it: Grab the car seat at its base, near where the safety belt passes through. If you can move it more than one inch to the left, right or forward, it’s too loose.

The danger: In a car accident, a child in a loose seat could crash into the front seat and suffer serious head and face injuries.

Fix: Read the manual first (only 20 percent of parents do, according to a recent survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Add your weight and tighten the seat belt as much as possible. For forward-facing seats, also use the top tether to help lock the seat in place.

Mistake #2: Harness too loose

Test it: Once the child is in the car seat, pinch the harness at the shoulder with the chest clip properly in place. If you’re unable to pinch any excess webbing, the harness is tight enough.

The danger: A child can easily slip out of a loose harness or even be ejected from the car.

Fix: Always use the chest clip, and position it level with the underarm. Make sure the harness passes through the proper slots and is tightly buckled and there’s no slack.

Mistake #3: Infant turned face forward too soon

Test it: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all children should remain rear facing at least until they turn 2 years old or have reached the maximum height or weight capacity of the infant car seat. Inspections show that 30% of infants are turned around too soon.

The danger: An infant’s bones and spinal cord are still forming. When a child is rear facing, the back can can better absorb the immense forces of a crash. When facing forward, an infant’s relatively heavy head can catapult, putting pressure on the undeveloped spine and risking paralysis or death.

Fix: Read the seat label and follow age, height and weight limits.

Mistake #4: Rear-facing infant seat not at a 45-degree angle

Test it: Many infant car seats have a built-in level that tells you when your seat is at the wrong angle. But car seats are usually installed in a position that’s too upright.

The danger: An infant’s airway is as narrow as the diameter of a soda straw. If a rear-facing seat leans too far forward, the baby’s head can fall forward, cutting off the airway supply.

Fix: If the car seat is not equipped with an adjustable pedestal to ensure the correct angle, tightly rolled up towels or a section of a swimming-pool noodle can be placed under the area where a baby’s feet rest.

Mistake #5: Not knowing the age stages for car seats

Test it: Any child between 40 and 80 pounds and up to 4’9″ tall (generally kids from 4 to 8 years old) needs a booster seat. And children under 13 should never sit in the front seat.

The danger: An adult seat belt doesn’t properly restrain a child because it crosses the body at the wrong position: too high on the abdomen and shoulder. Also, children often move the shoulder belt behind them because it’s uncomfortable. During a crash, a child who is too small for a seat belt can sustain internal, head or spinal injuries.

Fix: Move older children to a booster seat when they reach the height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

During National Youth Traffic Safety Month, companies and organizations across the country will be holding events, contests and promotions to raise awareness about the dangers teens and children face on the road. Stay tuned for more child safety posts from our auto lawyers.

Related information:

Attention all parents: Important new car seat law for 2014

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