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With the kids in school, all the holiday travel, and parents’ hectic schedules, now is a good time for a reminder of proper car seat safety.
Child safety experts have identified the following 10 common car seat mistakes parents make, as well as corrective action parents and caregivers can take.
1. Moving a child out of a booster too soon
This is unsafe for the child because seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. Injuries to the abdomen or chest can occur from improper seat belt fit during a crash or abrupt stop. The remedy is to keep your child in a booster seat until the seat belt fits them properly – lap belt positioned low across the hips and upper thighs, shoulder belt across the chest and collarbone.
2. Car seat not installed tightly enough
The car seat will not stay put if the seat belt or lower car seat anchor connection is too loose. This subjects your child to a greater chance of getting hurt in an accident. Make sure the car seat does not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than one inch when tested at the belt path.
3. Too-loose harness straps
If the harnesses are too loose, your child cannot be properly restrained in a crash and could be ejected from the seat. To remedy this, ensure that the harness straps lay flat, without any twists. It should be snug enough that you cannot pinch any extra material at the child’s shoulder.
4. Retainer or chest clip too low
The purpose of the retainer clip is to keep the child secure in the car seat in the event of a crash or sudden stop. A retainer clip that is too low can allow the child to come out of the harnesses. The fix here is to place the retainer clip at armpit level.
5. Turning your child forward-facing too soon
Turning a child forward-facing before age two can result in head, neck, or spinal cord injury due to their undeveloped bodies. To safeguard children, keep them in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the upper weight or height limit recommended by the car seat manufacturer.
6. Allowing children under age 13 to ride in front seat
It’s a fact that children under the age of 13 are typically not large enough to safely ride in the front seat. Front passenger airbags can seriously injure them in a crash. The remedy here is to have all children under age 13 ride in the back seat, properly restrained.
7. Forgetting to use the top tether
Without the top tether, during a crash or sudden stop, your child’s head and neck will be subjected to excessive forward movement.
8. Adding extra padding
The problem with adding extra padding on or in the child’s car seat is that they may interfere with how it was designed to perform in a crash. The remedy is to only use products that come with the car seat or are recommended by the car seat manufacturer.
9. Installing a car seat using LATCH in the center rear seat
In most vehicles, LATCH installation in the center rear seat is not supported. Using lower anchors that are intended for outboard car seats could cause the system to fail and the car seat could be thrown during a crash. Read your vehicle owner’s manual. Only use lower anchors in seating positions approved by the vehicle manufacturer.
10. Installing car seat with both LATCH and a seat belt
Using more than one system to install a car seat may put unnecessary stress on the car seat and affect its performance in a crash. Experts says that two is not better than one. Install the car seat in the approved seating position with lower anchors OR the seat belt.
Your local and state police departments are trained to help drivers install car seats safely. Ask for help if you are in doubt.
Lauren Fix is a nationally recognized automotive expert, media guest, journalist, author, keynote speaker and television host. A trusted automotive expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics, energy and safety issues for both the auto industry and consumers. Her analysis is honest and straightforward. Follow Lauren on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram