Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Car Seat Safety Rant

Disclaimer: I am not a saftey expert, I am just giving my personal opinion on this issue.  
Time and time again, I see parents who seem unaware of the importance of car seat safety. Even though most people in the US drive with their children in the car multiple times a week, they appear to think of car seats as more of a necessary nuisance rather than the life saving equipment that they are. I hate to be pessimistic, but accidents do happen!
According to the CDC, “Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, and by 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years” (Source:  http://www.cdc.gov/MotorVehicleSafety/Child_Passenger_Safety/CPS-Factsheet.html) I don’t know about you, but if someone told me that I could reduce my child’s chances of dying, I’d be all ears.
I can’t say this enough: if you are involved in a bad car accident, you only get one chance. You can’t go back and reposition your child or adjust the straps. You only get ONE. CHANCE. So you should make informed choices.
When purchasing your child’s seat, try not to pay attention to the design or which one looks the best. Choose the safest one for your child’s age and the car you drive. For example, if you have an SUV and don’t have to worry about space, you’ll be able to consider seats that someone with a Smart Car that hardly has any space can’t. There are several agencies that test car seats, so if you are not sure what to look for, just check out their ratings. Consumer Reports, e.g., is a great resource.
If you decide to purchase a used seat, make sure you verify that the seat was never in a car crash. Also check the expiration date of the seat- there is a sticker underneath the fabric that will have either the expiration date or the date of manufacture. Car seats expire six years from their date of manufacture and should no longer be used.
Personally, I would only buy a used car seat if I knew the person I was buying it from. I would not trust a stranger to be honest with me regarding the seat’s history. Car seats are such a small expense when you think of the amount of use they get. They are definitely one of the most important items you need for your child.
However, even the best of car seats is of little use if it is installed incorrectly. Parents, I beg you to read the instructions carefully and follow them! In cars that have the LATCH system, putting a car seat in is not too difficult. If you are unsure of your installation result, find someone who will double check it for you. Usually, someone at your local Department of Motor Vehicles or the fire station will be able to make sure your child’s seat is installed the way it should be.
One mistake we made when we turned my daughter’s car seat from rear to front facing is that we didn’t attach the tether strap to the appropriate anchor because we hadn’t read that part of the instruction manual. Thankfully, we weren't in an accident. After I read in an article to always read your vehicle’s manual as well, we found out that we cannot install a car seat using the LATCH system in the middle, but would have to use the regular seatbelt for installation in the middle position instead. We moved the seat to one of the side positions. Be informed- read all the manuals carefully!

Once you have installed your seat safely, it is time to learn how to strap your child in correctly. It is very important to ensure that the straps are not twisted and that they are adjusted to your child each time he/she gets into the seat. The straps should be very snug! A lot of parents are concerned that their children may not be comfortable enough and leave the straps too loose. This can be very dangerous, since the child- especially a very small infant- can slip right out of the straps in the event of a crash if the harness is not tight enough. Also, always make sure the chest clip is used at chest height. It should sit between nipple and armpit level.
Especially in winter time, avoid putting your child in the seat wearing a jacket or coat. Anything that sits between your child and the harness hinders the straps sitting properly. In the event of a crash, the jacket or coat will become compressed and practically non-existent, so that the fit of the safety harness will be too loose, putting your child in danger.
The most important piece of advice I have been given is to keep the car seat rear facing as long as possible within the weight limits allowed by the car seat specifications. The AAP altered its recommendation and now also suggests that parents keep their children rear facing as long as possible, at least until the age of two. I know many parents believe their children cannot be comfortable because they are unable to stretch out their legs completely while sitting in the car and turn their children to forward facing as soon as it is legally possible. While I understand this concern, I have to say that children who are always kept rear facing and don’t know any different do not mind sitting with their legs at a slight angle (I would sit like that myself if I could…) The most pressing argument for keeping your child rear facing is that it is FIVE TIMES safer! Again, anything that keeps my babies safer has my undivided attention. You only get one chance…
There are millions of great websites with wonderful tips on car seat safety. My favorite compilation can be found at http://www.drmomma.org/2010/02/common-car-seat-errors.html. Go take a look at them! Read your seat’s manual, even if you’ve been using it for ages. Read you car’s manual, just to be on the safe side. If you don’t like your child’s seat, buy a new one. We all want out children to be safe- don’t take any chances!

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