Child Safety 101: What Parents Need to Know About Installing Car Seats

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For any new parent, child safety is a top priority. This is especially true when it comes to transporting a small child in a moving vehicle. If you’re expecting a new child in the near future, there’s a good chance you’ve done your research on the current car seats that are on the market. Perhaps you’ve even purchased a top-rated car seat for your child’s protection. Unfortunately, even the “safest” car seat isn’t enough to protect your child if it’s not installed correctly—and with a 2016 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finding that improperly installed car seats and other car seat issues are a very legitimate concern, with up to 59% being incorrectly installed or used.

By being aware of some of the most common mistakes parents/guardians make when installing child safety seats and by taking advantage of the many free resources that are available when it comes to child safety and car seat installation, you can protect your child against common incidents and injuries related to improperly installed car seats and other car seat issues.

Common Car Seat Issues and Mistakes

Begin by making yourself aware of a few of the most common car seat issues and mistakes made not just by first-time parents, but by all parents.

  1. Going Forward-Facing Too Soon

Most car seat manufacturers and models will have specific guidelines in place regarding when a child using a car seat should be switched to forward-facing orientation. All too often, however, parents do not follow these recommendations, resulting in improperly installed car seats; this is especially common in states where there is outdated legislation requiring that children only sit rear-facing in a car seat until they’re one year of age. In reality, the decision to move to a forward-facing orientation should be based on the size of the baby. In many cases, a child may not be large enough to sit forward-facing safely until age two or older, so it’s always best to stick with manufacturer guidelines and keep children rear-facing for as long as possible.

  1. Failing to Use Anchors and Tethers

Another common mistake that leads to improperly installed car seats and other car seat issues is that of failing to use provided anchors and tethers, especially when a car seat gets switched to forward-facing orientation. These days, all vehicles have at least three tether points that are specifically designed to hold child safety seats in place and prevent them from careening forward (or to either side) in the event of an accident. Unfortunately, many parents forget to attach forward-facing car seats to the top tether, increasing the risk that a child’s head could collide with the seat-back in front of them in the event of a crash. Parents should always utilize all anchors and tethers available to them to avoid these serious child safety and car seat issues.

  1. Allowing for Too Much Movement

Another potential source of improperly installed car seats is that of not installing the car seat or car seat base securely enough. When using a car seat belt to secure a car seat or car seat base, it is important to make sure the belt is taut across the child safety seat. This will reduce the likelihood that the seat will become dislodged or move around too abruptly in the event of a collision. The best way to test for tightness of car seat installation is to manually grab the car seat around the belt path and attempt to wiggle it with a fair amount of force. If the child safety seat (or its base) is able to move an inch or more to either side, it’s not installed securely enough; the belt should be further tightened across the belt path until there is less than one inch of total movement upon completing the same test.

  1. Using an “Expired” Car Seat

One fact about child safety seats that often takes new parents by surprise is that, like perishable food items, car seats actually do expire—meaning they shouldn’t be used past a certain date. Why do car seats expire? Because over time, the materials they’re constructed out of can become gradually broken down and weakened by exposure to the sun’s UV rays and other elements. As a result, older child safety seats may not have the same ability to protect a child during a crash as newer ones. When you purchase a new car seat, its expiration date should be listed on the registration card. More than likely, the date will be about 10 years out from the time the seat was manufactured.

Avoiding Improperly Installed Car Seats

Now that you’re aware of some of the common car seat issues and mistakes that lead to improperly installed car seats, what are some additional steps you can take to avoid these very serious child safety concerns?

For starters, take advantage of the many free resources available to you. Many hospitals, fire stations, and even some retail stores offer car seat installation seminars every few months (or by appointment). During these events, you can have a certified professional install your child safety seat and provide you with tips and guidance for avoiding common car seat issues down the road. Should you decide to partake in one of these events, just be sure it’s being held by a reputable organization. You should never have to pay for a car seat installation event.

As your child ages, so will his or her car seat needs. Whether you need to switch to a forward-facing seat, a booster seat, or any other configuration that involves re-installing a car seat, continue attending these events. This is the best way to avoid car seat issues and the child safety risks that can arise from improperly installed car seats. Furthermore, you’ll enjoy added peace of mind as a parent!

Car seat issues, such as improperly installed car seats, are a very real problem. The good news is that injuries related to improperly installed car seats are 100% avoidable by taking some basic precautions. For those with questions and concerns should reach out to Garcia & Ochoa Law Firm operating throughout Texas.  A friendly professional is always standing by to provide assistance to individuals and families who are seeking legal advice. 

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