You use a car seat for your child to ensure their safety, but did you know that 3 out of every 4 car seats are used incorrectly? To provide optimum safety and reduce risk of injury for your child, you should learn as much as you can about car seat safety. Below are common questions and issues about how to properly choose, maintain, and use child safety seats.
Is your child in the right car seat?
There are several factors to consider when choosing a car seat for your child. First of all, the correct kind of car seat for your child depends on their age and size. Up until your child is 1 year old, they should always ride in a rear-facing seat. There are rear-facing seats that are for infants only, or there are 3-in-1 convertible seats that you can use for your child for a longer period of time.
Your child should continue to be in a rear-facing seat until they are 3 years old, or until they exceed the weight and height limit specified by the car seat’s instructions. Keeping a small child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible is the best way to keep them safe. Once the child is about 4 years old, or outgrows the rear-facing seat, then they are ready for a front-facing car seat with a harness. Children should typically stay in the front facing car seat until they are about 7 years old or until they exceed the seat’s height and weight limits.
After they outgrow the front-facing seat, they are ready for a booster seat. The child should continue using a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. A seat belt fits properly when it lies snugly across the upper thighs (not the stomach). The shoulder belt should fit snugly across the shoulder, and not the neck or face. Children should always ride in the back seat for optimum safety.
All too often, a parent is confused or doesn’t know how to properly install a car seat. Luckily, the National Highway Administration (NHTSA) put into place the LATCH system. The LATCH system, which stands for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children,” is a system enacted in 2002 that requires vehicle manufacturers to standardize car seat installation.
Cars equipped with this system have a set of small bars (anchors) located
in the back seat where the cushions meet. Car seats equipped by the LATCH
system have lower attachments that fasten to the anchors, as well as a
tether on top that attaches to an anchor in the vehicle. This system of
anchors and tethers make up the LATCH system. LATCH makes it easier for
parents to correctly install a car seat, every time.
Does every accident require a car seat replacement?
According to the NHTSA car seats only need to be replaced after a moderate or severe crash, but not after a minor crash. Replacing the car seat after a minor crash is unnecessary because it might cause a child to ride in a car without a car seat while the replacement car seat is being acquired, or cause a child to stop using a car seat because the previous car seat was thrown away and not replaced.
A car accident is considered minor only if it meets all of the following criteria:
- The vehicle door near the car seat was not damaged
- The vehicle was able to drive away from the accident
- None of the car’s occupants were injured
- The air bags did not deploy
- There is no visible damage to the car seat
If you were in a car crash that met all of these qualifications, you can continue using your current car seat. However, if one or more criteria were not met, the car accident could be considered moderate or sever and a new car seat is necessary.
Should you buy used car seats?
In general, safety advocates do not condone buying used car seats. This is because a used car seat cannot be safety guaranteed; there can be recalled parts, missing parts, expired parts, or damage. The seat might not be equipped with the LATCH system. Also, if there is no damage immediately visible, there is no way of knowing is the seat has been in a moderate or severe car crash.
If you are thinking about buying a used seat, try to have the previous owner verify if the seat has been in a crash, has any damage, and has any missing parts. It is also important to check the NHTSA’s recall list to see if the seat or any of it’s parts have been recalled. If you are unsure if the seat is entirely safe, do not risk your child’s safety for it.