As moms, we’re always striving to keep our kids safe. Given that car accidents are the leading cause of death in children age 14 and under, car seat safety is one of the most important and tangible ways we can protect our little ones. Here are 6 tips to keep your child as safe as possible in the car.
1. Ensure your car seat is installed correctly.
Car seats come with installation instructions but if you’re like me, you might feel even more confused after reading them than you were before. Apparently, I am not alone, as 4 out of 5 car seats are not installed correctly. But did you know that DC offers free car seat inspections with Child Passenger Safety Technicians? Maryland and Virginia have similar programs.
2. Keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued an updated recommendation in late 2018 advising parents to keep their children’s car seats in the rear-facing position for as long as possible—until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their specific car seat. Check your car seat manual to determine weight or height limits. Previously, the AAP had recommended keeping children rear-facing until their 2nd birthday but given that many car seats can accommodate weights of 40 pounds or more in the rear-facing position, they changed their recommendation so that parents know to keep their child rear-facing past 2 years old if the car seat height and weight requirement allows it. It can be tempting to change your child to forward-facing so that you can see them, and they can face out, but the truth is that they are much safer rear-facing. In fact, children up to age 4 have a five times greater chance of surviving and/or avoiding serious injury in a car accident if rear-facing vs. forward-facing.
3. Position the chest clip at armpit level.
The car seat’s harness chest clip position should be on your child’s chest, in line with his/her armpits. This might seem like a needless detail, but it’s incredibly important. The proper location of the chest clip helps prevent ejection in a car crash and helps protect internal organs from the impact of the crash. You can view proper chest clip placement here.
4. Make sure the straps are snug.
Car seats work best when the straps are snug. You can check to see if your child’s straps are tight enough using the pinch test. You should not be able to pinch the straps together horizontally. Also, be sure that there are no tangles or twists in the straps.
5. Be sure harness straps are at the right height.
Car seat harness straps have multiple threading slots (the holes where the harness straps are threaded through the car seat), designed to grow with your child. While your child is rear-facing, the harness straps should be at or just below your child’s shoulders. As your child grows, you’ll need to adjust the threading location to keep it in the right position. Once your child transitions to forward-facing, the harness straps should be at or just above the shoulders. View a visual here. Note, car seats come in two threading styles: no rethreading (where you adjust threading location by lowering or raising the headrest) and rethreading (where you manually rethread the straps to the threading holes at a lower or higher level). For rethreading styles, be careful not to tangle or twist the straps when rethreading.
6. Remove winter coats and snowsuits.
As discussed above, car seats work best when the straps are snug against the child’s body. Puffy winter coats and snowsuits prevent this, so it’s best to take them off in the car seat. After you buckle them in, you can put their coat or a blanket on top of them to keep them warm. Learn more here.