Did you know that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children age one through 12 years old? Three out of four kids are not as secure in the car as they should be because their car seats are not being used correctly. Using the correct restraints reduces infants’ and toddlers’ chances for fatal injury by 71% and 54% in passenger cars respectively. (Source: http://www.safercar.gov/parents/TRS/toolkit.htm and http://www.safercar.gov/parents/index.htm)
I find these facts pretty scary, so I take no chances when installing a new car seat. Each time it’s time to make a car seat change, I head down to my local fire station on their car seat inspection day. I first heard about this amazing (FREE but donation appreciated) service when I was pregnant and I can’t believe how much they taught me that I would not have otherwise known. So after seeing these dedicated child passenger safety technicians again a few weeks ago, I decided this might be information our readers could use as well.
I spoke with Robin Bond of the South Windsor Police Department about the car seat inspections that she and her fellow Community Service Officers conduct and here’s what she had to say.
Q: Who can come in for a car seat inspection at a fire department? Is it limited to just residents of that town?
A: In South Windsor anyone from any town can come during the set inspection time. Check with your local police department or visit Safe Kids Connecticut or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for locations and events.
Q: What kind of things are you looking for when you inspect a car seat and its installation?
A: When we check a seat we want to be sure that the car seat is appropriate for the child based on the child’s weight, height and behavioral needs. We want to make sure that the seat is safe to use, because many people still do not know that car seats have an expiration date of generally six years, and that they are only good for one crash. If a car seat is too old, or if it has been crashed, it will not protect the child properly during an event. A car seat must fit the vehicle too, and some car seats are not compatible with some cars due to the contours of the vehicle seat and the child safety seat. The child needs to be facing the right direction, and the harness needs to be fitted correctly on the child. Finally, we want to make sure that the car seat is properly installed in the vehicle using the best system, LATCH or the safety belt, for the situation.
Q: What are the most common mistakes you see?
The most common mistakes that we see are the child safety seat not being used correctly or not being correctly installed in the vehicle. Some of the manufacturer’s directions are difficult to understand.
Q: When should a child be switched from an infant car seat to a convertible car seat?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children stay rear facing until two years of age. A child should be moved to a rear facing convertible car seat when they have outgrown the infant seat. A child should not go forward facing until the child reaches the height and weight limits of the rear-facing convertible.
Q: When should a child be switched to a booster seat?
A child is much safer in a five-point harness because the harness is designed to distribute the forces of a crash over a child-sized body. A booster seat is designed to try to elevate a child into a system designed for an adult.
Many car seats come with harnesses that range in weight from 65 to 80 pounds because the five-point harness is so much safer for a child. We do not want to put a child into a booster seat until a child has outgrown the height and weight of the five-point harness.
Q: When is my child able to sit in the car without a booster seat?
A child can move to the safety belt when the child can sit properly in an upright position (not slumped) with their feet on the floor of the vehicle for the duration of the ride. That is usually at a height of about 4’9” (57 inches). The safety belt should fit over the child’s upper thighs at the hips, and the belt should go across the center of the chest and the center of the collarbone.
Q: What car seat accessories are ok to use?
A: Car seat accessories that are added to the car seat change the way that the car seat works in a crash. There are no Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that after market products must conform to. Some car seat manufacturers claim to offer products that have been tested with the car seat, but the best and safest practice is not to use anything in the car seat that did not come with the car seat.
(Note: This includes things to keep children warm in the winter that go into the car seat, as well as toys hanging from the car seat, mirrors to see the child, pads for the straps, etc.)
Q: Why is it not recommended that a child be put into their seat wearing their winter coat?
A: Children should not wear large bulky clothing in a car seat because the bulk prevents a parent from correctly placing the harness on a child. The padding of a bulky winter coat will compress behind the child during the impact of a crash, and the compression may allow the harness to loosen over the child. A loose harness allows the child to move in the car seat, and excess movement can lead to injury. A blanket may be placed over a child once in the car seat, or some parents put the jacket on backwards over the child once the child is in the harness.
Q: For an expectant mom, how far ahead of the baby’s arrival would you recommend they bring their car seat in for inspection? What other pointers can you give to a new mom?
A: We simply request that new parents come in before the mother- to- be is in labor. That having been said, parents should come in early enough so that if the car seat they have chosen is not compatible with the vehicle, or if it will not be safe to use, another car seat can be obtained.
A new mom should know that all car seats must meet the same safety standards, so it shouldn’t matter how much you spend on the car seat. You have to look at and adjust all of the models to decide what features are important to you. The car seat should fit the child based on the child’s height, weight, and behavioral needs. It should fit the vehicle, because a very large seat may not be the best fit in a small car. Mom should find the car seat easy to use and adjust each time the child goes into the seat, and finally it should fit your pocketbook.
Q: Tell me about some car seat standards that our readers might not know about?
Some parents may not have heard that the standards for using the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) have changed. The use of that system is now based on the weight of the child and the weight of the car seat together. The weight of the child and the weight of the car seat must together be less than 65 pounds.
Q: Is it ok to use a car seat that has been given to me by a friend or relative or that I bought used?
There are many things to consider before using a car seat that one does not know the history of. You’ll want to be sure the car seat has not been in a crash, is not recalled and that it is not over six years old (expired).
Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know regarding car seat safety?
The role of the child passenger safety technician is to educate the caregiver about the safest way to transport a child. Accidents can be prevented, but crashes cannot.
If you’re not sure if your car seat has been recalled, please check this list of recalled seats provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
If you’re interested in getting your existing car seat installation inspected or are looking for guidance on how to install a new car seat, please visit one of these websites to find a car seat inspection location near you:
Safe Kids Connecticut or The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post has been verified per our sources as of March 2014 but is always subject to change based on current car seat recommendations. Please be sure to research any information found in this post to determine its current validity.