Your Car Seat Safety Questions Answered
If you have a child, we don’t have to tell you you’re carrying precious cargo. Safety is always a top priority for us at GoodBuy Gear, but this week particularly, we’re highlighting car seat best practices in light of Baby Safety Month and Child Passenger Safety Awareness Week.
The Centers for Disease Control reports motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. While grim, many of these deaths are preventable. Always properly buckling children in age and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts reduce serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%.
That’s why we spoke to Amie Durocher, a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, to answer all your car seat safety questions. Through two of her own pregnancies, Amie also worked at a hospital helping new parents install car seats. Currently, she is the Creative Director and main researcher and writer at Safe Ride 4 Kids. She knows a thing or two about car seats.
What To Look For When Purchasing a Car Seat
The right car seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car and you can install correctly every time.
“The good news is all car seats have to pass the same crash test standards, however, some car seats have additional testing that is not included in the standards, like side impact testing, which is not in the federal standards yet” Amie says.
Here’s what you need to figure out before buying a car seat:
- The stage of car seat your child is in
- Your child’s age, weight and height
- What direction will the child need to face (rear facing or forward facing)
More information on stages can be found on the Safe Ride 4 Kids site here.
The Burning Question, Is It OK to Purchase Open Box Car Seats?
“An Open Box car seat can be an affordable option. However, it’s also easy to lose pieces and not realize it when things are returned or have been on the shelf. Make sure to read through the manual to make sure all the necessary parts of the car seat are indeed there”, Amie cautions.
At GoodBuy Gear, we only sell Open Box car seats, which are not previously used. Each car seat we sell is inspected for safety, functionality and cleanliness. If there is a flaw in the item it will only be cosmetic, such as a snag in the fabric. Manuals are not always included with out Open Box car seats, but you can easily find them online. Learn more about our Open Box car seat safety protocols here.
When Should Parents Use a Rear Facing Car Seat?
Babies start out in a rear-facing car seat. States have different laws regarding how long a child needs to stay rear facing. But many have been updating their laws to require children to remain rear facing until age 2.
”Ideally, children will remain rear facing for as long as possible. Many parents are afraid of the child being uncomfortable with their legs up the back seat or of leg injuries. In reality, we see more leg injuries in forward facing children than in rear facing children. And most of the time, children are flexible and are perfectly comfortable sitting crisscrossed in their seat or putting their legs up the back seat”, she says.
When Is It Safe to Transition to a Forward Facing Car Seat?
It’s recommended to keep a child rear facing until the child reaches the rear facing limits of their seat in a rear facing configuration.
“Infant carrier seats only go rear facing but children often grow out of those seats before age 2. (Though infant carriers are bigger now than they used to be and often go up to 30 pounds). Children most likely will move from an infant carrier to a convertible seat—or will start off in an all-in-one seat—which will start rear facing and can be switched to forward facing, again ideally when the child outgrows the rear facing specifications”, Amie says.
When Is It Safe to Transition From a Car Seat to Booster To Nothing at All?
Transitioning to a seat belt positioning device (like a booster seat or RideSafer vest) will depend on the child’s size and maturity. You want the child to be mature enough to properly remain seated in their booster with the seat belt properly positioned over them. Many booster seats are rated for starting at 4 years old. Most car seat technicians will recommend waiting until at least age 5 to use a booster because at that age most children will be mature enough.
“A lot of parents consider a transition a “graduation” but really it’s a downgrade in safety. So you want to keep your child in a 5-point harness as long as you can before moving to a seat belt positioning device”, Amie says.
Then you want to keep your child in a seat belt positioning device until they can properly fit the adult seat belt on their own. To a CPS Tech, properly fit means:
- Shoulder belt crosses between the neck and shoulder
- Lower back is against the vehicle seat
- Lap belt stays on the upper thighs across the hip bones
- The knees bend at the end of the seat
- The child can ride like this for the entire ride
“Typically this won’t be until a child is 4’9” tall. This is not a hard and fast height. You want to check the 5-step seat belt fit test for each seating position the child sits in as it can vary. For instance our eldest passed the test in the third row of our Honda earlier than he could pass in the middle row”, she says.
Find more info on the 5-step fit test here.
How Can Parents Properly Fit the 5-Point Harness To Protect Their Child?
To start which harness slots you use depends on if your child is rear facing or forward facing. In a rear-facing car seat, the harness straps should come out at or below your child’s shoulders. In a forward-facing car seat, the harness straps should come out at or above the child’s shoulders.
The harness straps should fit snug on a child. By snug we mean it is tight enough you cannot pinch the webbing material between your fingers.
“The chest clip should be at about armpit level on the child. We suggest moving this into position after you tighten the harness straps so you don’t inadvertently pull the clip into the child’s throat as you pull the straps tight” Amie says.
Find more information on harnessing here.
Where Can Parents Find Resources to Properly Install a Car Seat?
“The best and most informative resource is to bring your car and seat to a local child passenger safety technician because every seat and every car and every child combination can be a little different. And no that does not mean go to your local fire station”, Amie advises. Check here and here first.
While there are well-meaning people and may help, they may not necessarily be trained and certified car seat experts. You can find a list of technicians, like Amie, near you via this page. In the meantime, there are a lot of general videos and resources online. Oftentimes manufacturers will have installation videos for their models of car seats.
Buckle up and stay safe!