Is My Child’s Car Seat Installed Properly?
Car seats are one of the most critical pieces of safety equipment parents use when it comes to their children, so it shouldn’t be rocket science to install right? To many parents’ surprise though, more than 50% of car seats are installed incorrectly. It can be hard to get every single detail correct when setting up a car seat in a vehicle, especially when the manual is 30 pages long and the belts, buckles, straps and accessories make installation even more confusing. Here a few basic tips to help make sure your child’s car seat is set for safety before your next trip:
- Test the seat: Your child’s car seat should never feel loose. If you’re able to move it side to side or front to back more than 1 inch, it’s not installed tight enough. This is the number one mistake parents make, according to car seat inspectors. Every car seat should be installed using either the LATCH system or a locked seat belt to secure it in place. If you choose to use a seat belt, be sure to tighten the belt as much as possible by putting all your weight into pulling it tight and make sure it’s locked from pulling loose.
- Check the harness: The harness is the part that goes around your child to keep them secure in the seat. If you’ve tightened your child into the seat and are still able to pinch the fabric straps of the harness – it’s not snug enough. There should be no slack in the harness. This helps make sure that your little one isn’t able to slip out of the seat in the event of a car crash.
- Position the chest clip: The chest clip is an important piece of protection that should be examined every time your child is fastened in the car seat. If the chest clip is too low, the harness could slide off your child’s shoulders, putting them at risk for ejection if a sudden stop were to occur. A chest clip positioned too high might mean injury to the child’s neck in sudden stop or collision. The chest clip is correctly positioned when it’s at armpit height.
- Make sure the car seat is facing the correct direction: All children should remain rear facing until they have reached the maximum height or weight capacity of the car seat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Previously, the AAP specified children should remain rear facing until at least age 2, but the new recommendation removes the specific age milestone in favor of height and weight requirements.
- Adjust the angle: All rear-facing seats should have built-in angle indicators or adjusters so that you can make sure your child’s head is not tilted too far forward, which could cut off their airway. Read your car seat’s instruction manual for more direction on ensuring the proper angle for your child.
- Check placement and positioning: The safest place for your car seat is the rear middle seat of your vehicle due to its maximum distance from passenger-side air bags and any potential impact.
- Check the expiration date: Yes, car seats have expiration dates! Most car seats have an expiration date of six years from their manufacture date. It’s important to keep up with this information and to check for recalls on your car seat so that a faulty buckle or latch doesn’t cause danger to your child.
- Check car seat compatibility with your vehicle: Research says that child car seats and vehicle seats don’t align properly more than 40% of the time. It’s important to pick the right restraint for your car, considering the size of your vehicle and size of the car seat. If the car seat doesn’t fit in your car correctly, it might not be the safest option for your child. You can learn more about this at safecar.gov.
The best way to know if your car seat is installed properly is to have it checked by a certified car seat technician. Talk with your pediatrician about any recommended locations or technicians in your area so that you can have peace of mind knowing your little one is riding safe and sound in your vehicle. For Louisiana residents, visit the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission website to learn more about child passenger safety and current regulations regarding child safety seat recommendations.
Written in collaboration with Holly Liles, Injury Prevention Coordinator and Certified Car Seat Technician at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport.