Top 10 mistakes parents make with car seats

Are you making these same mistakes?

Each year, the technicians from the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital and Safe Kids Louisville conduct numerous child safety seat, or car seat, checkup clinics. What continues to amaze child passenger safety technicians is the number of seats being used improperly. In fact, at least 90 percent of the seats they check are incorrect.

“Not all of the errors are what most people would consider huge,” said Sharon Rengers, R.N., child advocate with the Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital. “But one big error or combined errors can lead to an injury if the vehicle is involved in a crash.”

The top 10 errors seen at car seat checkup clinics:

  1. Child is not in a booster seat. A regular lap/shoulder belt is designed to fit a child who is at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Until then, the child needs to be in a booster seat.
  2. Toddler or infant in the wrong type of seat. All seats have different recommendations for the weight and height of the child. Many times, parents put the child in a seat when the child is too heavy for that seat.
  3. Seat is too loose. When installed properly, the car seat should not move more than 1 inch forward or side to side.
  4. Using aftermarket products. Products that support a baby’s head, get placed under a baby or are placed in the seat with a child may not have been tested for safety and may interfere with proper seat performance in the event of a crash. It is always best to avoid using these products.
  5. Harness straps are coming out of the wrong slots in the seat. For infants, the straps need to come through the slots that are just below the level of the baby’s shoulders. For forward-facing convertible seats for toddlers, the straps should come through the uppermost slots.
  6. Child is forward-facing too early. Children should face the rear of the vehicle until they reach the upper weight limit of their rear-facing seat, or until they are at least 2 years old. Many times parents turn the child toward the front when the child reaches 20 pounds. If the child is not 2 years old, the child’s neck has not yet developed to support the head in the event of a crash. Look at the weight limits of your convertible seats and use it rear-facing to the maximum weight limit ¾ even if your child is over age 2.
  7. Harness straps are too loose. The harness should be snug ¾ you should not be able to pinch any of the webbing between your fingers.
  8. Retainer clip is too low. The retainer clip that holds both shoulder straps together against the child’s chest should be level with the child’s armpits.
  9. Using a seat that is too small. Once a child has reached the upper weight limits of an infant seat, or once the child has gotten so tall that there is less than a hand’s width distance between the child’s head and the top of the seat, it is time to move into a rear-facing convertible seat.
  10. Using LATCH incorrectly. Many times parents place a seat in the middle of the back seat and use the lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) located on the sides of the vehicle. The seat should only be used in locations specified by the car manufacturer. And when LATCH is used, there is no need to also use the seatbelts. Instead, buckle the seatbelt, lock it tight and then place the car seat into position.

For more information on how to properly use a child safety seat, visit Buckle Up for Safety.


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