Installing a car seat for your baby seems like it should be a simple task. But many parents and caregivers make small mistakes that could make a huge impact on their child's safety in the event of a vehicle accident.
"A lot of parents think that they do have their car seat installed correctly," said Norva Perkins, RN, a certified child passenger safety technician at Franciscan Health Mooresville. "They look at the manual, and they think they're installed correctly. But in reality, about 59% of all car seats are installed incorrectly. I've seen this a lot when I walk parents out to their car. I've asked them if they want a car seat check and they say, 'No, we've got it, we got it,' and then we get out there and I can show them things that they've done wrong."
Should A Car Seat Move?
Perkins said movement of the car seat is a common problem she sees in car seat installation.
"When a car seat is installed correctly, it shouldn't move back and forth more than an inch, and you shouldn't be able to pull it away from the seat back," Perkins said.
Should I Use Both Seat Belts And Lower Anchors For The Car Seat?
While there are a few car seat manufacturers out there that make seats that can use both seat belts and lower anchors, most use one method or the other, Perkins said.
'It seems that it would make sense to use both: Double security," she said. "But in reality it's not safe that way."
"The car seats aren't tested with using both the seat belts and the lower anchors, and what happens is it puts stress on the car seat from two different angles, which can cause damage to the car seat or cause it not to hold properly," she said.
"Think about as if you wear prescription glasses and you have contacts. They work great separately, but if you put them together, you can't see a thing. It's kind of the same with seat belts and lower anchors so, you want to use one or the other."
"It depends a lot on your individual car, the type of vehicle seats in your car, and the type of car seat you're installing," Perkins said. "Use whichever one that the parents or caregivers can install correctly and securely every single time, and if you're having any issues, look up a car seat technician that can help you figure that out."
How Long Should My Child Be In A Rear-Facing Car Seat?
While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children remain in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible, the law on how long a child should be in a rear-facing car seat varies by state.
In Indiana, the law states children under the age of 1 year and less than 20 pounds MUST be restrained in a rear-facing child safety seat. Best practice recommendations are that children ride rear-facing as long as the manufacturer’s height and weight limits allow it.
In Illinois, children must remain rear-facing until age 2.
Many car seats available today accommodate children rear-facing until they weight 40 pounds or more.
"You want to allow your kids to ride as long as they can rear-facing based on the height and weight limit of that convertible seat," Perkins said. "It's just a safer way to ride. There's less injury associated when they're riding rear-facing."
When Can My Child Go Into A Booster Seat?
Many forward-facing car seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds. Once your child has outgrown height and weight limits for the forward-facing car seat you're using, it may be time to look at a booster seat.
Indiana law requires all children under the age of 8 years to use a child restraint system, typically a booster seat, in accordance with the child restraint system manufacturer's instruction, which are based upon the child's height and weight.
In Illinois, "Children should be secured in a forward-facing safety seat with an internal harness system until they reach the upper height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. When a child outgrows the forward-facing seat, he or she may transition to a belt-positioning booster seat."
When Should I Move My Child Out Of A Booster Seat?
"I see a lot of kids getting moved out of a booster seats and into a regular seatbelt too quickly," Perkins said. "Indiana state law requires that all children under the age of 8 must be properly restrained in a car seat or booster seat, but that's not the only precursor."
Illinois law states that children should stay in a belt-positioning booster seat until they are tall enough to properly fit in an adult lap/shoulder belt.
"Every child is different, their body shape is different. What they need to be able to do is sit in the vehicle seat correctly with their bottom all the way back against the seat back, their knees bent over the edge of the seat properly where their feet touch the floor, and then the shoulder belt should wrap just across the mid-collarbone," Perkins said. "If it's up on their neck at all, then they really need to be in a booster seat. That's what a booster seat does. It raises the child up so that the seatbelt fits them correctly. So you don't want to take them out of that too soon.
“Make sure that if you're going to take them out of a booster seat, can they sit in that vehicle seat correctly and the seatbelt fit them the way it's supposed to. If not, they need to stay in that booster seat."
When Do Car Seats Expire?
Car seats typically expire within 6 years from the date of manufacture. Check with your manufacturer.
"Everything breaks down over time, and car seats are in the heat in your vehicle, in the cold in your vehicle. So generally manufacturers give car seats an expiration date of six years from the date of manufacture, and every car seat should have a label on it that tells you when that car seat was manufactured. Go six years from that date unless the seat has an actual expiration date printed on it. If you don't see an actual expiration, you just want to go six years from the date that seat was manufactured and don't use it past that."
Don't donate or resell old car seats, instead remove the fabric and take the old car seat to a recycling or trade-in event.
Are Second-Hand Car Seats Safe?
Second-hand car seats are not a deal. You can't be sure of its history.
"Don't ever buy used car seats from a secondhand shop or a yard sale because you just don't know if they've been in a crash or not," Perkins said. "All the car seats are good for one crash and one crash only. And it could be just a fender bender, but there was stress placed on that seat and it might not show on the seat, but it's just not going to be as safe."
Need To Install A Car Seat?
Buying a new vehicle or a new car seat? Many Franciscan Health centers offer free child safety seat inspections. Each local program is overseen by a nationally certified child safety seat technician who will inspect seats and instruct families in how to properly secure them in vehicles.
By Robbie Schneider
Social Media Manager