As a child passenger safety technician, I have participated in many car seat inspections and am astonished at the number of seats that are either improperly installed and/or used. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 73% to over 90% of child restraints are misused. In my experience, over 95% of car seats have been misused in some way.
Let’s take a look at some common mistakes to help you avoid making the same.
- When seat belts are used to secure the car seat, the seat belt has not been locked. Seat belts lock in 1 of 3 ways: at the (1) latch plate, (2) retractor or (3) by using a locking clip. Remedy: Be sure the seat belt is locked.
- The child restraint is not secured tightly and moves more than 1-inch at the belt-path. Remedy: Tighten the seat belt or LATCH strap and check for tightness.
- Some vehicles and/or child restraints do not allow the LATCH system to be used in the middle seat. This information is found both in the vehicle owner’s manual and the child restraint owner’s manual. Remedy: If utilizing the center seat and your vehicle does not allow for LATCH, secure the car seat with the seat belt.
- The harness straps are not tight enough to secure the child properly. Remedy: When checking tightness, pinch the straps at the shoulder level. You should not be able to pinch extra fabric.
- The retainer clip is positioned too low. Remedy: Position the clip level with the child’s armpit. The sternum absorbs more force than the abdomen in the event of a crash.
- The harness straps are not positioned in the proper harness slot. Remedy: Position the harness straps at or below the shoulders when a child is rear-facing and at or above when forward-facing.
- Forward-facing position used when child still requires rear-facing. The EARLIEST a child can be turned forward-facing is when he/she is 1 year of age AND 20 pounds…not either/or. The new recommendations are to keep children rear-facing for as long as possible or until the height and/or weight requirements of the convertible car seat have been reached.
- The carrying handle of the infant-only car seat remains in the carrying position and not in proper position for riding in the vehicle. Remedy: Refer to your child restraint manual for recommended positions for the handle while in the vehicle.
- Using aftermarket products. I must say, this is one of the most commonly seen mistakes. Aftermarket products (i.e. head support, harness padding, bunting) have not been crash tested with the car seat to be rendered safe. Remedy: Do not use any product that did not come with your car seat unless otherwise noted by the manufacturer.
- Expired car seats. Car seats expire after 6 years and should not be used. The plastic can become brittle and not provide the protection needed in the event of a crash.
- Rear-facing seat not at proper angle. Remedy: Position rear-facing seats to a 30-45° angle.
- Tether strap not used for forward-facing car restraint or improperly used with rear-facing convertible car seats. Remedy: Utilize tether straps as per manufacturer guidelines.
- Tether strap not tight.
- Tether strap not attached to correct anchor. Remedy: Refer to vehicle owner’s manual for proper tether anchor to utilize.
- Child not appropriate weight and/or height for the car restraint. Remedy: Follow child restraint height and weight guidelines.
- Twisted harness straps.
- Twisted seatbelt or LATCH straps.
- Using both seatbelt and LATCH to secure the car seat in a vehicle. Remedy: Only one or the other is to be used.
- Two car seats secured to one LATCH anchor. Remedy: Use seat belt for one child restraint and LATCH for the other or move child restraint.
- Using second-hand car seat in which the history is unknown. Remedy: Purchase a new car seat. If you must use a second hand seat, be sure you know that the car seat was not involved in an accident.
How do you prevent misuse?
- Read you car seat owner’s manual.
- Read your vehicle owner’s manual.
- Get your child restraint inspected every time you install a new seat.
- Be vigilant and check tightness of the seat and straps before every use.
- Make sure other caregivers who transport your child in a vehicle are knowledgeable about car seats and common car seat mistakes.
Since motor vehicle accidents are still a leading cause of death in children less than 14 years of age, it is crucial for parents and caregivers to be vigilant in utilizing child restraints properly and consistently.