Updated: Jun 22, 2021
My husband jokes that I’m a crazy car seat lady. But, all jokes aside, I am. I have good reason though; my first three years as a nurse were spent in a pediatric level one trauma center. I cared for so many kiddos involved in car accidents who were unrestrained or restrained incorrectly, and the outcomes weren’t always good. According to the NHTSA, three kids are killed and almost 500 are injured daily from car accidents in the U.S. This staggering statistic is why correct car seat usage is so important and why I’m pretty nuts about it. Car seats decrease the risk of fatal injury by 71% among infants and 54% among toddlers.
When I was pregnant with our son, we installed the bases to our infant carrier in both cars. I was meticulous with the install. My type A personality really shined as I read each step in our car seat manual out loud as Josh did the install. When we were finished, I double and triple checked it. I felt confident. However, once I became a child passenger safety technician (CPST), I realized my own install was incorrect. Me – the crazy car seat lady – installed the car seat incorrectly. It was a small detail – a strap in the base was in the wrong place but important, nonetheless. Here’s why - car seat manufactures crash test car seats very specifically, so if the car seat install doesn’t match the manufacture’s recommendations, the car seat hasn’t been crash tested that way. Interestingly, one study found that almost 46% of car seats are misused or installed incorrectly.
Below are three common car seat mistakes that caregivers make.
The chest clip – Just as important as how the car seat is installed in the car is how the child is installed in the car seat. And this is something I see pretty often – the chest clip is in the wrong position. Typically, the chest clip is too low, but I have seen a chest clip too high. A chest clip that is too low can cause serious organ damage if a crash occurs, and a chest clip that is too high could affect the child’s airway during impact. Where should the clip be positioned then? For older infants and toddlers, the top of the chest clip should be at level of the child’s armpit. Because small infants are so, well, small, a good rule of thumb is to place the chest clip at the nipple line.
After-market products – Look, I know we all want our kids to look cute even in their car seat, but the truth is that if you are putting items in the car seat that didn’t come with it, the car seat can’t be guaranteed to be safe. The most common items I see are car seat strap pads and infant inserts. Most infant carriers come with strap pads and infant inserts, and those have been crash tested with the seat, so make sure to use those! Don’t waste your money on something that could potentially make your car seat unsafe. Honestly, I’m not even sure why companies are allowed to make after-market products, but here we are. And while we’re on the subject of what not to put in a car seat, here’s another important one – coats and snow suits. Putting a child in a car seat with a coat, snow suit, or blanket behind them increases the risk that your child will fly out of the seat if an impact occurs. Just trust me on this one. Put your kid in a long-sleeved, thin fleece, buckle them in, and cover them with a blanket. Problem solved.
Front-facing too soon – Okay, ya’ll can hate me for this one, but here are the facts. Rear-facing is 100% the safest way for your child to ride in a car. Research shows it. Also, if you’re worried about broken legs from an older child sitting rear-facing, research shows they actually aren’t at a greater risk of broken bones. In my opinion, kids should be rear facing until 50 pounds by law, but I’m not a politician. Maybe I’ll start a hashtag or something. Anyway, just because your seat allows front-facing at 30 pounds doesn’t mean you should do it. Max out the rear-facing weight for your seat. Some seats will even allow you to rear-face longer than others (did I buy one of these? Of course, I did). I know it may seem convenient to front face them as soon as you can or you want to see their face. But, I also know you care more about safety than convenience, and I promise, rear-facing is safest.
So there they are – three car seat mishaps I see pretty often. How can these and other mistakes be avoided? Have your car seat checked by a CPST (like me)! Our job is to not only make sure your car seat and child are safely installed but to teach you how to do it at home too. Oh! And this isn’t just for infant carriers. CPST’s can help you safely install convertible car seats, booster seats, and even make sure your kiddo is safely riding in a seat belt.