The more I read about car seat safety, the more passionate I become about it, and that's why I want to share some common car seat mistakes that you might be inadvertently making. You may remember that I've talked about a few of these issues in my post "5 car seat safety tips that all parents should read," but I wanted to highlight a few more things.
Here are 8 common car seat mistakes you might be making:
1.) Letting their harness straps be too loose - At least once or twice a week, I notice a picture on social media of my friends' children in their car seats, and the majority of the time I notice that their harness straps are way too loose and their chest clip is down by their waist. To tell if your harness is tight enough, use the "pinch" test method. Buckle your child into their restraint, then using your thumb and index finger, try to pinch one of their harness straps at their shoulder level. If you're able to pinch the strap, it's too loose. There should be no excess webbing and the harness strap should lay flat and snug up against your child's body. If their straps are not tight enough, this could lead to injury or even ejection during a crash. This is a real problem, and this blog post is a harsh reminder of what can happen if your child is not restrained properly. The photo above is a great example of straps that are too loose and a chest clip that is improperly placed (should be at the level of the child's armpits).
2.) Resting your infant car seat on top of the shopping cart - I've mentioned this in a previous post too, but I feel like it's an important one. Don't be falsely reassured by the little "click" you hear when you put your infant car seat to rest on top of the shopping cart's handle. This is not safe and it's actually very dangerous. This article was published in the journal Pediatrics in 2006, yet we still see people placing their tiny infants on top of the shopping cart so they can keep them close. The ONLY safe place for your infant car seat is in the shopping cart basket.
3.) Bundling your child up in a winter jacket before putting them in their car seat - Simply put, bulky jackets and car seats don't mix. If your child is in a puffy jacket, it may result in their harness straps being too loose to provide enough protection for them in the case of an accident. Use a lightweight jacket instead, then bring a blanket to wrap around your child once they're properly restrained in their seat.
4.) Using the wrong harness slots - Speaking of the harness, let's talk about which harness slots you should be using. You should always read the manual for your specific car seat, but a good rule of thumb is that if your child is rear facing, their harness straps should be AT OR BELOW the level of their shoulders and if they're forward facing, their harness straps should be AT OR ABOVE the level of their shoulders. Rear-facing AT OR BELOW. Forward-facing AT OR ABOVE. Again, check your manual because some manufacturers allow only the top slots to be used in forward-facing mode since those slots are reinforced to hold the harness in case of a crash.
5.) Transitioning to forward-facing too soon - I just have to bring this up again (I know, I know. I talked about this already in the "5 car seat safety tips every parent should read," but I feel like I need to reiterate). In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations for car seats to state, " All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat's manufacturer." (source: HealthyChildren.org HealthyChildren.org). Again, the key words here are at least and or until. These recommendations have been in place for over 3 years now and people are still choosing to turn their children foward-facing at the tender age of one. After doing extensive research on this and reading an article published in Injury Prevention that found “the odds of severe injury for forward-facing infants under 12 months of age were 1.79 times higher than for rear-facing infants; for children 12 to 23 months old, the odds were 5.32 times higher,” I felt compelled to keep my toddler rear-facing for as long as possible. Then, after watching this YouTube video, and showing it my family members, everyone was on the same page. Seriously, the video is a MUST SEE. Don't be swayed by the thought of your child being "uncomfortable" while extended rear-facing - they simply aren't. My son is 2.5 years old and in the 85th percentile for height and he is very comfortable rear-facing in his Diono Radian RXT. His legs aren't scrunched up or awkward - he's totally fine.
6.) Letting your child out of their harness too early - Once your child is old enough/large enough they may be ready to transition to a booster seat. You can switch from their forward-facing car seat to a booster when your child has outgrown the height and weight limits on their car seat (typically that's around 40+ pounds, although some car seats allow for your child to be harnessed until they're 65 pounds). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) it's best to keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether until he or she reaches the top end of the height or weight limit set by your car seat's manufacturer. There's no reason to rush them into a high-back or backless booster.
7.) Letting your child transition to a booster too early - Booster seats are for old kids that have outgrown their forward-facing child restraint. As I mentioned earlier, according to the NHTSA it's safest to keep them in a harness and top tether for as long as possible. The purpose of a booster seat is to help the adult safety belt fit your child correctly. The booster seat simply lifts up your child so that the seat belt (this means lap and shoulder belt; never just a lap belt) is properly positioned over their hips (and not across their abdomen which could result in serious organ injury in a crash situation).
8.) Letting your child transition out of their booster too early - Again, keeping your child safe is your top priority as a parent, and most kids aren't ready to transition out of a booster seat until they are at least 8-12 years old (the rule of thumb is that your child should be 4 feet 9 inches before using the safety belt). You'll want to be sure that the lap belt fits snugly across the upper thighs, and not their stomach, and the shoulder belt should lay snug against their shoulder and chest, not touching their face or neck. They should also be able to place their back firmly against the vehicle seat back and their knees should be bent over the vehicle seat cushion. What do you do if your 12+ year old is not yet 4 feet 9 inches? You continue to use a booster. There are discrete products available like the Safety 1st Incognito that are designed to blend in with the car's seats to be less noticeable. Also, please remember that your child should ride in the back seat until they're 12 years old because it's safer there.
As always, I strongly encourage everyone to make an appointment with your local CPST to have your car seat(s) installation checked. They are fantastic resources and are available to answer any questions you may have.
Have you been making any of these common mistakes?
If you're in the market for a new car seat, we've got a lot of great information for you!
Be sure to check out our Graco Extend2Fit 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat review, our Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat review, and our Graco SlimFit Convertible Car Seat review. If you've got a little baby, we've also got a Graco infant car seat review. We've also got some Graco products featured in our best baby products of 2017 list.
You should also consider Diono for their narrow seats that you can fit 3 across. We've got full reviews of the Diono Radian RXT, a post about traveling via plane with the Diono Rainier, and why car seats and coats don't mix and the benefits of extended rear-facing featuring the Diono Radian RXT as well.
Disclosure: All opinions are my own. Amazon links are affiliate links. Image credits: marchibas/Elena Stepanova/Dollar Photo Club