Car Seat Refresher Course

In response to the increase in car seat safety questions during the last few weeks, I offer a refresher course to make sure our kiddos are traveling safely. Here are the answers to the questions listed on the last post.

1.  “At what age can my preschooler move to a booster seat?”

The safest way for children 30-40 pounds to ride in a car is in a forward-facing, 5-point harness, convertible seat.  Moving from a convertible car seat to a booster seat is based on the height and weight limits for your convertible seat, usually around 4 years and 40 pounds. The limits of your preschooler’s seat should be labeled on the seat.  If you do not see a label with these limits, check the car seat manufacturer’s website for the information.

Soon as your child has outgrown the forward-facing convertible seat, they may move to the booster seat.  This usually occurs during the early school age years.  Your child should stay in a booster seat until reaching the minimum height of 4’ 9” (about the age of 8 years.)

2.  “My infant just loves to play with these toys on his car seat handle.  That’s OK, right?”

Don’t be misled by the numerous toy companies who market hanging toys for infant car seats.  Unless your infant car seat manual specifically states the handle of the seat can be in the upright (carrying) position while driving, the handle should be down. An infant seat is designed to rebound towards the cushioned back seat during collision.  If the bar is in the upright position, the car seat is unable to fully protect your infant as it should.  Toys themselves can become projectiles during an accident.  The handle may come off and injure your child or another passenger.  Toys are great distractors when the car seat is in the stroller, or being carried.  When driving, however, keep the bar down.

3.  “When can my infant face forward in the car?”

These recommendations are changing!!  Currently, your child may move to a front-facing, 5-point harness convertible seat once he or she is 20 pounds AND 1 year of age.  However, the AAP is now recommending children stay rear-facing as long as possible. Yes, even though their feet are touching the back seat, your child is best protected from head and neck injuries when they are rear-facing.  Children under 2 years of age are FIVE-TIMES SAFER when in the rear-facing position during collision. Watch this short video clip demonstrating the difference in positioning.

I know that many new parents really look forward to switching their baby’s position in the car, but I would urge you to wait.  This movement to keep kids rear-facing as long as possible will save kids from debilitating injury and death.

4.  “I just got in a little fender-bender, do I have to get a new car seat?”

Yes. Destroy your old seat so it will not be used again.  Insurance companies may reimburse the cost of a new seat, contact your agent.  You may also want to call your car dealer after a crash to see if your LATCH tethers or seat belts need to be replaced.

5.  “Where can I get my car seat installation inspected?”

Many places offer the opportunity for your car seat to be inspected for proper and safe installation.  My favorite web site to determine the closest location to your home is www.seatcheck.org.  After simply entering your zip code, information about the nearest location and contact information will be provided.

6.  “What do you think is the best car seat?”

The best car seat is the one that is properly installed in your vehicle, and is correctly used to restrain your child EVERY TIME the car is in motion.

As you are beginning the search for your car seat, there are a few resources that may give you direction.  First, check the website www.carseatdata.org.  This is a blog, the content is user-generated, but it is a nice starting point to determine what seats may fit best into your specific car model.  Next, with that starting information in hand, check this site by the NHTSA that determines how easy the car seat is to use.

After you determine a list of possible models, hit the stores and play with the seats.  After you find your favorite, leave the store with a clear understanding of the return policy.  You should be able to open the box, attempt to install the seat, and confirm the installation with a car seat inspector.  If your car seat does not seem optimal after those steps, you should be able to return or exchange the seat for a different model.

Finally, the best car seat is the one that is never in a collision. Give driving your full attention, avoid distracted driving, and wear your own seatbelt. If you haven’t already, check out my favorite PSA of 2010 form Sussex, England here.

7.  “It’s so cold outside!  How can I keep my baby warm in the car?”

Of course your baby needs to stay warm when traveling.  However, NOT with jackets, thick sweaters, or infant bunting outfits under the car seat straps.  Thick clothes and coats under the car seat straps do not allow the straps to be as close to your child as possible. If the harness and straps are not tight, your child may be at risk during collision due to excessive body movement in the seat. This is called “coat compression.”  Check this blog post (towards the bottom of the post) showing photos of the poor positioning a child is in if wearing a coat under the car seat straps.

Buckle up your infant and get the straps snug, then add a blanket over the top of your child for warmth.  There should be nothing between the infant and the back of the infant seat. An alternative option is a car seat cover to place over the top of your car seat once the infant is buckled securely.

For older children, slip off their coat before buckling them in the seat.  Buckle the harness tight.  Then, have them slip on the coat backwards over their arms to keep them warm.

Some additional information about winter coats are car seats is here.

8.  “How will I know if my seat has problems, or is being recalled?”

As soon as you purchase your car seat, send in the registration card.  If there are any concerns about the car seat model, you will be notified.  If you don’t have the card anymore, go to the manufacturers website or the NHTSA and you can register your seat directly.

Another website with recall information is here.

9.  “How do I know if my child is buckled into the car seat correctly?”

Do the “pinch test!”  The pinch test is used to make sure the straps are tight enough. Once you have secured your child in the straps, the chest clip should be at armpit level and the straps should not have any twists.  You should NOT be able to pinch the strap above the chest clip (photos here.)  This is also determined by the clothing being worn.  The closer the strap is to the child’s body, the better the protection.

10.A. “When can my child sit in the front seat?”

NO KIDS in the front seat until they are 13 YEARS-OLD!

10.B.  (for bonus points) What is the correct reply to, “But mmoooommmm, Sally’s mom lets her sit in the front seat!”

“I love you MORE!”

For even more information about car seat safely, check the AAP website here.

Travel safe this Holiday season.  Looking forward to 2011 with you.