As a CPST (child passenger safety technician), I've seen some very, shall we say, creative(?) uses and placements of car seats. When we become parents, our lives tend to revolve around this very tiny, very loud, yet very vulnerable little human whom we love so much sometimes it feels like our hearts may literally burst through our chests.
Our number one priority as a parent is to keep our children safe, yes?
Americans spend an average of 14 hours per week in our cars (according to the National In-Car Study from http://www.arbitron.com), and the leading cause of death for children under age 14 is "unintentional motor vehicle" accidents, per the CDC in 2013. So, it makes sense that when we think of keeping our children safe, we should start by examining our cars. Here's how.
1. Proper harnessing.
This little dude in the green shirt looks to be enjoying his car seat ride. However, check out that black clip that holds the two straps together. That's called a "Chest Clip", and it should be placed on the chest, in line with the armpits. The purpose of the chest clip is to position the harness straps and keep them on the child's shoulders. Babies and young kiddos have rounded shoulders that straps like to slide off of. Improper chest clip placement (too low) allows the straps to fall off the shoulders and the child can easily be ejected from the seat. Positioning the clip too high becomes a concern of airway obstruction. We also want to make sure that the straps pass the "pinch test". What that means is simply trying to pinch the harness belt; if you can pinch some, the harness is too loose, but we don't want it so tight that we restrict breathing, either. Twisted straps may not be able to sustain the force they were designed to, and too loose straps can obviously fall off the child's shoulders and render the entire seat useless. Check out this article by Graco for more information.
So this child has her chest clip where it needs to be, her straps look nice and tight without any slack (passes the pinch test, I bet!) and she looks to be maybe around 4 years of age, I would guess. So, in this case, she is ok to ride facing forward, and is in an appropriate seat to do so. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends all children ride rear-facing in their car seats until the age of 2, at minimum. Many seats allow for rear-facing up to 40 pounds, and some of the newest seats rear face up to 50 pounds! Children are 500% safer riding rear facing. Click here for the science behind that and more info. The Cosco Scenera Next seat at Walmart is $44 and fits children rear-facing up to 40 lbs. and even has a cupholder!
3. Aftermarket accessories
This little sweetie is riding rear-facing, which is fantastic! Her chest clip could be a bit higher, though, and since she's rear-facing, the straps should be coming out of the slots at or below her shoulders. (Children riding forward facing should have the shoulder straps coming out of the slot that is at or above their shoulders.) The issue I want to discuss here is the use of aftermarket products. In this picture, it is the strap covers. While cute and soft, they haven't been tested by the car seat's manufacturer. So, what happens in the event of a crash? Would it be just fine? Would it cause the straps to slip off her shoulders and throw her from the seat? We just don't know. Many car seat manufacturers make products such as the strap covers, or cup holders. Be sure to first read your car seat manual and contact the manufacturer to see, but those products which are produced by the same manufacturer as your car seat are generally regarded as safe to use, as they have been tested with your seat. The cute frilly stuff you see on Etsy? Not so much. Click here to read more about the dangers of non-regulated products.
4. Buying a car seat from a friend or at a yard sale.
No no no no no no no nope. Car seats are a one-child (ok, MAYBE one-family/sibling) use item. Never buy them used. I think the above picture says it all, doesn't it? Not to mention the very real possibility that a pre-loved car seat could be expired. That's right, car seats expire! Some expire around 6 years after the manufacture date. Read more about that here. There's no excuse nowadays, anyway, especially with the very low-cost options such as the $44 Cosco Scenera Next mentioned above (they even have a Realtree camo print!), or you can contact your local SafeKids Coalition to see if you qualify for a free seat. Find a SafeKids car seat check event near you. Add a car seat to your baby registry and suggest that your guests all chip in on it. And ensure your car seat is secure by having it checked by a certified child passenger safety technician, such as myself. To find a tech nearest you, click here.
5. Bulky clothing doesn't belong in a car seat.
Now that cold weather is upon us, warm coats are a fact of life. However, they aren't safe for use in a car seat. The problem is that a fluffy coat adds bulk between your child's body and the harness straps keeping her secure inside the seat. You'd have to loosen the straps a little bit to be able to buckle her in the seat with her coat on. In a crash, the coat compresses, and your child's little body is slammed extra distance into her straps, causing more injuries. Think about this: if you knew you were going to jump off a roof, and you were given a harness with a parachute, I bet you'd make darn sure that your harness was as tight as possible to your body, right? Same way with a car seat's straps and how that impact force works in a collision. So, what options do you have? Well, you could always take the child's coat off once you get ready to load her into her car seat. Although, when it's -5° on the Illinois prairie, that's not very realistic. Maybe you can sew some straight lines, or have a grandma who would love to stitch something up for her favorite grandchild? (Free tutorial here) Or perhaps you'd prefer to leave the sewing to pros on Etsy? Either way, car seat ponchos are quickly gaining popularity, and for good reason. You don't have to take them off and on when getting into the vehicle, and the car seat harness buckles UNDER the poncho. They are really fairly simple to make with a layer or two of soft fleece in your child's favorite print. And super cute to boot. For more info, click here.
So, there you have it. My top 5 way to keep your little one safe in the car. Please leave a comment below, send me an email, schedule your car seat check in Dallas Texas or Charleston Illinois (Thanksgiving weekend) through me or your local car seat check event station, like and share this article. You never know, you just may save a life!
All photos included in this article are public access.
I'm Bethany. Wife. Boy Mom. Bradley Method® teacher. Child passenger safety technician. Placenta encapsulator. I like little dogs, big hair and sweet tea.