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A few weeks before my first grandson was due, I suggested to my son that he call the hospital to learn how to correctly install the baby’s car seat. My son gave me that, “Seriously?” look and said, “Mom, I’m in medical school, I think I can figure out how to install a car seat.” He tried and a few days later made an appointment with the car seat team at Primary Children’s Hospital.
If you’ve ever had problems installing a car seat you may have felt his pain. Why are car seats so hard to use? You would think that minds smart enough to figure out how to dock a shuttle to a space station or deliver multiple flavors in your soft drink could figure out a fool-proof way to easily install and use a car seat. And yet, at community check points all across the country, four out of every five car seats are found with mistakes — some with very dangerous safety problems.
So what are the big No No’s of car seat installation and use? Here are the 10 most common car seat mistakes — from least common to most common — we see at Primary Children’s.
10. Using a seat that doesn’t fit the child. We have seen a 2 year old in an infant-only seat and an 18 month old in a booster seat. Always read and follow manufacturer’s instructions to learn the specific weight and height range for that seat. Remember to keep toddlers rear-facing until 2 years old and 30 pounds.
9. Car seats that are “creatively” installed. Car seats should not be tied down with bungee cords, duct taped, screwed to wood platforms or wire supports, wedged between captain chairs or installed upside down. Also, do not ask us how to install a car seat in a boat, on a bike or on a horse.
8. Using both the seat belt and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tether for Children) to install the seat. Logically it does seem that if one system is safe, then two are better, but with car seats this isn’t the case. Just use the system that allows the best installation. Either way, always use the tether strap with LATCH or the seat belt when installing a seat forward-facing.
7. Using an expired or recalled seat. Unfortunately, car seats do expire. While it’s tempting to think that manufacturers just want to sell more seats, that’s not necessarily the case. Technology and safety features are constantly improving. Think about a computer. Does one made 10 years ago really work just fine? Not so much. Look for the expiration date on the side or bottom of the car seat.
6. Using a seat that was bought at a yard sale or thrift store. Would you jump with a cheap parachute your mom picked up at a yard sale? A second-hand seat is fine to use, but only if you know its history. Does it have the instruction manual and all the parts? Do you know whether it has been in a crash? Don’t put your child to at risk to save a buck.
5. Using LATCH in the center when only the outboard positions are approved. Since the center position is often suggested as the safest place to install a car seat, check to see if your vehicle allows the use of LATCH in the center. If not, and you want to use the center position, just use the seat belt. Some vehicles say it’s ok to use the inner LATCH anchors for a center install, but always read the owner’s manual to make sure this is allowed.
4. Using products that didn’t come with the seat. Grandmas love to buy cute, snuggly positioning items for new babies. But the rule is: If it didn’t come with the seat, don’t use it. While these products may look great, they could put your baby at serious risk in a crash when the cushions compress and your baby is no longer snugly secured in her harness. Some products will state that they are “crash-tested” but currently there are no federal guidelines for testing these kinds of products. Also, remember that cute toys hanging on the handle of your infant seat can become weapons of destruction in a crash!
3. Not using booster seats until the child is about 4’9”. Seat belts are made for adults so until a child is tall enough to have the lap belt lie across his strong hip bones and the shoulder belt lie across his collar bone, he or she should sit in a booster — one with a back if the car does not have a head rest.
2. The car seat is too loose in the car. A car seat should not move more than 1 inch from side to side or forward when pulled at the belt path. On the other hand, if the whole car shakes when you pull on the seat, it’s too tight.
1. Using Harness straps incorrectly. Harness straps go at or below the shoulders in a rear-facing seat and at or above the shoulders in a forward-facing seat. The straps should be snug so that you can’t pinch any slack in the webbing over the shoulders. The chest clip should be at armpit level.
The most common question is: “Which car seat is the best to buy?”
The answer: The best car seat is the one that fits your vehicle, your budget, your child and one that you will use properly each time your child rides in the car.
Car seats can be tricky but at Primary Children’s, we have certified Child Passenger Safety technicians who can help. Just call (801) 662-6583 with your questions or to make an appointment. Our appointment times are M-F from 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at our Eccles Outpatient Services building.