When you’ve got a baby on board, “precious cargo” is more than just a cute saying on a bumper sticker.
Keeping your child safe instantly becomes top priority and every car ride counts – from baby’s first trip home from the hospital to the years ahead of carpooling, family road trips and beyond.
But caring about car seat safety doesn’t always mean parents are getting it right. In fact, research shows the vast majority of parents are making common car seat mistakes.
“Nationally, the statistics are that 80 to 90 percent of car seats are incorrectly used,” says Nicole Capozello, child passenger safety technician with Beaumont. Since auto accidents are a leading cause of death among children in the United States, “a child who’s properly restrained in the car seat is going to be far better off.”
The good news? There’s plenty of help available, including free car seat checks and classes at Beaumont’s upcoming Baby Fairs happening April 22 in Troy and April 29 in Royal Oak. In the meantime, consider these top 10 car seat safety tips:
1. Read the manuals
Not just the instruction manual for your car seat but also the owner’s manual in your vehicle.
“A lot of the parents read the car seat manual but don’t realize they should be also be reading the automobile manual,” says Diane Moskal, R.N., assistant nurse manager at Beaumont Hospital, Troy. “Some car seats fit better in certain makes and models of cars than others.”
2. Every install is different
“Installing an infant seat isn’t the same as installing a convertible seat and a booster is different again from installing a convertible seat,” Capozello says.
So always study the instructions and double check your install with a certified child passenger safety technician. “I always recommend to my families if they have a new child, a new vehicle or a new car seat, they should always get it checked,” she says.
3. Rear-face until the car seat’s limits
“We find that the proper use of a rear-facing car seat makes that child the safest person in the car,” Capozello points out.
But while these benefits are becoming more well known, parents should check their car seat’s manual for rear-facing height and weight limits.
“I encourage families to keep their child rear-facing until the height or weight limit on the seat,” she says. “If someone tells you do it until a certain age, you should ignore them. It depends on the child.”
4. Don’t use aftermarket products
Newborn head supports, shoulder pads and winter blanket inserts are just a few of the many aftermarket car seat products available.
“A lot of times those products are not actually safe for use with the car seat,” Capozello says. Anything that goes between your baby and the car seat is especially unsafe.
5. Test out car seats before you buy
Avoid buying a seat that’s incompatible with your vehicle by testing out the fit before you buy. This is usually an option at Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby, Capozello says. “They will allow families to take the floor model of the car seat and try it in the vehicle.”
6. Learn your install method – and only use one
“Parents should make sure that they’re checking the vehicle manual with respect to which systems they should use to install car seats,” Capozello says. “You have seat belts and you have the LATCH system. A lot of families, particularly with a brand new first baby, think ‘Well, if one’s good, two’s better.’ But that’s not OK. You cannot use both.”
7. Only trust reputable sources
From well-meaning family and friends to Facebook and YouTube, uninformed advice abounds about car seat safety. Remember to only follow advice from trusted sources, such as a certified technician, Moskal says.
“They can also rely on the information from their car seat manufacturer,” she says.
8. Check the expiration date
Car seats have an expiration date – and it must be followed.
“Every car seat has a date at which you can no longer use it,” Capozello emphasizes. “Once it’s expired it is not going to protect a child in an accident.”
9. Keep straps tight
The five-point harness on your child’s car seat must be secured tightly. Bulky jackets can get in the way of this, which is why they shouldn’t be worn in car seats.
“They should act as if they are putting their child on a roller coaster that is going to flip upside down,” Capozello says. “In case there is a rollover accident that is exactly how it needs to protect.”
To check the fit, try to pinch the shoulder strap between your finger and thumb. “If you can get any material between your fingers, that’s too loose. If there is slack, the baby can slump,” she says.
And as for winter coats, Moskal adds, “I always remind parents that you’re going from a warm hospital to a warm car, from a warm car to the warm house.”
10. Check your chest clip
Chest clips should be at the level of the child’s armpits, Capozello says. “The armpit level is roughly where the breastbone is, and that’s where the clip should always sit regardless of age.”
How to get your car seat checked
Beaumont’s Baby Fairs, held 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, April 22 at Beaumont, Troy and Saturday, April 29 at Beaumont, Royal Oak, will include new parent mini classes, mom- and baby-focused vendors, prizes and more. Free car seat checks by certified technicians will be offered from noon until 3 p.m. at Beaumont, Troy. For more information, visit www.beaumont.org/baby-fairs.