By Michael Molina, community health educator at CHOC
Car seat safety: selection tips every parent should know
Car seats and booster seats are the basic protection systems for passengers who are too small to get the full safety benefits from adult seat belts. Choosing the right seat is an important part of keeping your child safe on the road.
The best seat is one that:
- Fits your child: appropriate for the child’s age, height, weight and development level
- Fits in your vehicle
- Is in good condition: has not been in a crash, is not expired or recalled, and has no labels missing
- You can afford: inexpensive seats may meet the same national safety standards as their more expensive counterparts, but may not have the same comfort features
Remember to register your car seat to ensure you receive any relevant recall information from the manufacturer.
Refer to The Ultimate Car Seat Guide produced by Safe Kids, a nonprofit organization working to help families and communities keep kids safe from injuries, for personalized car seat tips based on your child’s age and weight.
To speak to an experienced child passenger safety technician, please call CHOC community education department at 714-509-8887.
Car seat safety: direction is key
The direction your child faces in their seat matters. Many children move to the next seat stage before they are ready, potentially putting them at greater risk for injury in a crash.
Current California law requires children under age 2 to be rear-facing. This helps protect their developing fragile spinal cords during a collision by the seat absorbing the force of a crash, rather than the child taking the brunt of the impact. Keep your child rear facing as long as possible, until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of their seat. This could mean beyond two years old.
Car seat safety: location matters
The back seat is best for children under age 13. The back middle seat is the safest place for them because it will protect them from a crash and they won’t be injured by airbags. If you are unable to install a car seat in the middle seat, consider placing your child on the curb side, as opposed to the street side. Never place an infant carrier in the passenger seat, and always have children in booster seats use both the lap and shoulder belt.
Car seat safety: do’s and don’ts of installation
In the U.S., 59 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly. In Orange County, 98 percent of car seats inspected by Safe Kids’ Orange County chapter are misused. This may put your child at risk for injury in a crash.
|Do read and follow your car seat instructions and vehicle owner’s manual.||Don’t use the seat belt and the lower anchors together to install car seats.|
|Do use tether anchor for forward-facing car seats.||Don’t sacrifice the middle seat just because it doesn’t have a lower anchor system. Try using the seat belt for installation and make sure it doesn’t move more than 1 inch from the belt path.|
|Do lock the seat belt if you are installing your car seat with the seat belt and not the lower anchors.||Don’t use a lap-only belts for children using booster seats. Use a 3-point lap-and-shoulder belt to have full upper body protection.|
|Do the 5 Step-Test for your booster seat child to know if he or she is ready to ride without a booster.||Don’t ignore the labels on the car seats.|
|Do choose a car seat that you will correctly and consistently use||Don’t install a car seat in the front passenger seat. The back seat is the safest location for your child to ride. If there is no back seat, make sure to turn off the front passenger air bags.|
Car seat safety: harnessing 101
Proper use of the harness or seatbelt ensures your child is securely positioned in a car seat, booster seat, or vehicle seat, and provide optimal protection in the event of a crash. Here are some helpful tips for adjusting the harness and seatbelt securely for your child.
Children in rear-facing car seats should have the harness straps at or below shoulder level. This ensures that your child doesn’t slide upwards in a crash.
Children in forward-facing car seats with a harness must have the straps at or just above the shoulders.
Both forward facing and rear facing
- To ensure your harness is tightly adjusted, do the “pinch test” at shoulder level. If you can pinch any material of the harness at the child’s shoulder, it is still too loose.
- Avoid wearing thick, padded clothing when your child is in their car seat. Wearing them will prevent the harness from being effective in a crash because the padding will compress in an event of an impact which will cause injuries.
- The chest clip is at armpit level.
- Always buckle both the harness straps and the crotch belt buckle.
- Always wear a lap AND shoulder seatbelt when your child is using a booster seat
- Do not transition your child out of the booster just because he is 8 years old. Use the 5 Step Test to determine if your child is ready to ride without a booster.
Car seat safety: getting your car seat inspected
A list of car seat resources, including where to get a car seat inspection, is available in the OC Child Passenger Safety Resource Guide.
For more safety and injury prevention tips from CHOC experts