Car Seat Safety
By Dana Sullivan
Shopping for a car seat may not be as much fun as picking out a crib
and layette, but it's one of the most important products you'll choose
as a new parent.
According to the American Academy of
Pediatrics, more children are killed and injured in car
crashes than from any other type of injury (for a comprehensive car
seat safety guide, go to AAP's Website). If every parent used a
properly installed car seat, traffic deaths of children four years old
and younger would be reduced by half.
All seats must meet
federal safety standards, but safety experts say that seats with
five-point harness restraint systems are the safest. Many new models
have built-in tethers for added security, but for others you may need
to buy a tether kit separately and have a tether anchor installed in
your car by the dealer.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when you're buying and installing a car seat:
- Basically, there are four car seat styles: rear-facing car
seat/carriers for newborns to one-year; convertibles, which face the
car's rear for babies to one year olds and then face forward for
toddlers; front-facing seats for toddlers; and boosters for children
who weight more than 40 pounds and are too heavy for conventional car
seats. (Note: Children should ride in the rear-facing position until
they are one year old and 20 pounds, whichever comes last.)
- Read your vehicle owner's manual carefully. Some vehicles,
especially older models, may not safely accommodate a car seat in the
rear, middle seat. If you don't have the owner's manual, call the
manufacturer to request one.
- Install several different types of car seats in your car
before you buy one. Follow the manufacturer's installation instructions
exactly. You will discover that some fit more securely in your car than
others. Be sure to use a locking clip if your car's seatbelt doesn't
lock in place once the seat is installed.
- To securely install a car seat, use the full weight of your
knee to press it down into the automobile's upholstery while tightening
the seatbelt to the car seat or it's base. The car seat should be held
firmly against the car's seat back. If you pull it forcefully, the seat
should barely tip forward and backward or from side-to-side. If you can
move it more than two inches in any direction, it's not adequately
- Never use a car seat in the front seat of a car with a
passenger side airbag. (Ideally, never use one in the front seat. The
safest place is in the rear, middle seat.)
- Find out when there will be a car seat check near your home.
Many hospitals, fire and police departments periodically sponsor these
"drive-through" events during which an expert will check if your car
seat is properly installed. Check The Safe Kids Website to learn about upcoming
events in your area.
- For recalls or other safety concerns about your child's car
seat, call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Auto
Safety Hotline at (800) 424-9393.