Car seat safety: The biggest mistakes parents make, and how to avoid them
Every year, children are injured or killed in car crashes in Ireland. Safety seats dramatically reduce the risk of death or serious injury in a collision. We urge all parents to get a safety seat that’s convenient to use, and to make buckling your child into it such a habit that you don’t even have to think about it.
Using an old or secondhand seat
That safety seat you scored at a garage sale for a fraction of its original price may seem like a bargain, but it could cost your child his life. The same goes for that older-model seat your sister gave you after her child outgrew it.
Not only are used seats unlikely to come with the manufacturer’s instructions (vital for correct installation), but they could be missing important parts, have been involved in an accident (even unseen damage can affect the seat’s functioning), fall short of current safety standards, or have been recalled due to faulty design. Moreover, plastic gets brittle as it gets older, so a seat that’s too old could break in a crash.
If you must use a secondhand seat, make sure it has the original instructions (or contact the manufacturer for a replacement copy), has all its parts (check the manual), has never been involved in a serious accident, and hasn’t been recalled.
Turning your child to face forward too soon
Children have large heads and comparatively weak necks, so in a head-on collision a child’s head can jerk forward suddenly and violently, resulting in spinal injuries. For this reason, keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2, or until he reaches the seat’s maximum rear-facing height and weight limits.
Moving your child out of his car seat or booster too soon
• Your child should travel in a safety seat with a five-point harness until he weighs at least 40 pounds, or until his shoulders no longer fit under the harness straps. Get more details from our expert about when kids can safely switch from a car seat to a booster.
• Your child should travel in a booster seat from the time he weighs 40 pounds and is at least 4 years old until he’s 4 feet 9 inches tall and at least 8 years old. Get more details from our expert about when kids can safely switch from a booster seat to car seat belts alone.
You can substitute a travel vest for a safety or booster seat if your car has only lap belts in the back seat or your child weighs more than a safety or booster seat allows.
Not installing a safety seat correctly
Among the most common mistakes: Not buckling the car seat in tightly enough, and not using the right type of seat belt to secure your child in his booster seat. Check to be sure that car seats don’t tip forward or slide from side to side more than an inch, and that boosters are secured with a lap-and-shoulder belt.
Not securing your child in the seat
To make sure the car seat harness straps are snug enough to hold your child firmly in the event of an accident:
• Buckle your child in, making sure the harness straps aren’t twisted, and then use the mechanism on the front of the car seat to pull the harness tight. You shouldn’t be able to pinch any harness fabric between your fingers.
• Slide the plastic retainer clip that holds the two straps together up to armpit level before securing it. If the clip is too low, your child could be ejected from his seat in a crash.
Not buckling a car seat into the car
To avoid this mistake, when you’re putting your child in his seat, double-check to be sure that the seat is buckled tightly to the car. Forward-facing safety seats come with a strap so you can tether the seat to an anchor point in the car. Tethering the seat gives extra protection, helping to prevent head and neck injuries to children if there is a collision.
Letting two kids share one seat belt
Don’t do it. Crash tests have shown that when two children ride buckled into one seat belt, in an accident their heads can knock together with potentially fatal force.
Holding your child on your lap
It’s tempting to lift your child out of the car seat and hold him in your arms when he’s having a tantrum after hours on the road, or when you’re making a quick dash from one place to another with friends and it’s easier for everyone to pile into the same vehicle than to take separate cars.
This might seem safe enough. After all, you’d hold your child tight if anything happened, right? But the truth is that even if you’re belted in, your child could be ripped from your arms by the force of a collision. And if you manage to get the seat belt around both of you, your weight could actually crush your child to death.
So as much as your child may scream — and as inconvenient as taking your own car is when the two of you could just hop into someone else’s — never let your child ride in a moving car unless he’s safely strapped into an age-appropriate, correctly installed car seat or booster.