Car seats can save lives, just as seat belts do. One of the best ways for parents to keep their young children safe in the car is by choosing the right car seat and using it correctly. However, many parents find that car seats are difficult to use, and either choose to ignore them or install them incorrectly. SafeKids Worldwide estimates that over 50% of car seats are not used or installed correctly. That is why road injuries are a leading cause of preventable death and injury to children ages 1-13. It is critical for parents to understand what type of car seat a child needs and how to secure it properly so that their child remains safe in the car.
The Right Type of Car Seat
Finding the right type of car seat to use for a child can be a simple process. There are only three types of car seats: rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster seat.
Rear-facing car seats are for infants and are normally used from 5 to 40 pounds or up to 2-years-old. Due to its nature, the rear-facing seat is the safest type of car seat in the event of a front-impact or side-impact crash. Instead of moving towards the impact, an infant will instead slide up the car seat and have the force distributed along their back.
Forward-facing car seats are for children after age 2 or when they outgrow a rear-facing seat in height and weight. A forward-facing seat will typically have a 5-point harness and top tether to securely hold a child. The 5-point harness keeps the child’s hips, shoulders, and pelvis in place and prevents too much movement in a crash.
Booster seats are for children ages 8-12 and utilize the car’s actual seatbelts. Although they may have outgrown their car seat, young children still are not ready to use a seat belt alone. The booster raises the child to adequate height for the seat belt to lay across their shoulders and lap properly as it does for adults. This prevents the child from slipping out of the seat belt in a car accident.
Car Seat Installation
Choosing the right car seat for a child is only half the battle. A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 46% of car seats are installed incorrectly. One of the most frequently cited mistakes is that the car seat is not buckled tightly enough. In order to properly secure a car seat, the seat will use either the car’s seat belt or lower anchor attachments, found in between the cushions of the seats. It is recommended to follow the instruction manual that comes with the child’s car seat, but a way to gauge the seat’s security is through the inch test. A properly installed car seat should not move more than one inch either side to side or front to back when pulled at the car seat’s belt path. The right incline is also needed for the car seat to function properly. Follow the instruction manual to angle the seat correctly, but, in general, infants and toddlers require a flatter angle of the seat while older children should sit at a steeper incline.
Having the right car seat installed correctly can make all the difference for a child’s safety in the event of a car accident. Although difficult at first to use, it is one of the most important steps a parent can take to protect their child. Whether it is a quick trip to the grocery store or a drive across state lines, parents should always buckle up their child in the right car seat.