Nothing is more important than your child’s safety, especially when driving. Car accidents cause injuries like whiplash and concussions in adults, but children’s small bodies are much more vulnerable. Car seats are designed to protect them from this damage, but it’s critical that the seat is installed and used properly for this to work. Whether you are installing your first or tenth car seat, below is a guide to installing and using car seats to keep your children safe.
Choose the Best Location
Car seats, of course, go in the back seat of your car. For most two-row vehicles, that leaves only one option, but if you have a minivan or other car with a third-row option, you’ll want to decide the most convenient location to install the seat. Once you know the row, you’ll have to determine which seat to use.
The middle seat is often recommended for car seats to add protection from side collisions. This can also be convenient as the car seat doesn’t touch the front seats and cause height issues. However, many cars have a middle seat that is elevated or otherwise not safe for installation- consult your owner’s manual to determine this for your car. You can then determine whether behind the driver or passenger seat is most comfortable for you and common passengers.
Use Appropriate Seats
Infants, toddlers, and older children require different kinds of restraint and often different seats altogether. The top recommendation by safety experts is to leave your child rear-facing for as long as possible. Even if your child’s legs are long, they can often sit comfortably in this position well into toddlerhood, and it’s much safer. A rear-facing car seat prevents whiplash as well as many other injuries, including leg injuries.
It’s important to note that most car seat guidelines are based on age, but other important factors to consider include your child’s height and weight. Once your child has reached the weight limit of 35-50 pounds, you can forward face them until it’s time for a booster seat. You may be surprised at how long boosters are recommended, so always make sure your child meets the requirements before removing all safety gear.
Don’t Add Extras
A car seat should always be installed with nothing but the items provided by the manufacturer. That means no infant inserts, blankets, or sleeping bags should be a part of the car seat. You can put in items like a pacifier, or use a dangling toy and mirror, once your child is safely buckled in. Not only do additional items compromise safety as they haven’t been crash-tested, but they also remove any liability from a manufacturer.
Secure the Seat
Most car seats have two ways they can be installed- using the seat belt or a LATCH. Both are safe but should not be used at the same time.
The car seat will include a path for the seat belt- follow the arrows with the belt before securing. LATCH stands for lower anchors and tethers for children- for this method, you would use lower attachments to connect to anchor bars in the car. LATCH can have a weight limit that includes the car seat weight, so be sure to stop using it when you exceed this weight.
A forward-facing seat should always be tethered at the top in addition to these attachments. This decreases the chance of your child’s head moving in a whiplash-like motion during a crash.
Do the Inch Test
In order to verify your car seat is installed properly, there is a simple test you can perform. When you pull at the seat belt path, the seat shouldn’t move more than one inch in any direction. This rule applies for forward- and rear-facing seats using either the seat belt or the LATCH.
Ask an Expert
Many local organizations will have a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician on site whose job is to verify proper installation. Safety coalitions, fire stations, and some hospitals often have these individuals on staff and they will usually perform a check for free. You should always know how to install a seat yourself, but they can offer guidance. In case of a car crash, your kid needs chiropractic care as well to make sure there are no serious damages.
Read Your Owner’s Manual
All vehicle owner’s manuals will include instructions on the safe and proper installation of a car seat. Be sure to consult your specific vehicle’s manual before installation so that any specific requirements are met and your child is safe in your car.
Hopefully, you will never experience a car accident while driving your child, but if you do, these tips could prevent serious harm. In the event of an accident, AICA Marietta is here to evaluate you and your child for any injuries and ensure a safe recovery.