My favorite local cloth diaper store sponsored a WIC cloth diaper event and a car seat safety check. Before my son was born, I tried to take the installed car seat to AAA only to discover they no longer did safety checks in my area. They referred me to the police department, but there was no one there certified. A nice officer looked at the seat and gave me a few pointers, but as I learned today, despite these pointers our carseat was still one of the 8 in 10 installed incorrectly.
Firstly, my car has a LATCH system, which means that there are special clips built into the car to make installing a car seat super easy. Since the middle seat is the safest in the car, we installed my son there but were at a loss as to what precisely to do since the LATCH system didn’t exist there. Instead, we used the side LATCHes, which is not correct. Turns out that even though my car is less than 2 years old, the LATCH system doesn’t work in the middle seat. The seat can go there, but it has to be buckled in with the seatbelt – a process entirely new to me. Never use both the belt and the LATCH (my husband and I joked this was double the safety!) because carseats are not designed for this. Regardless of how the base or seat is secured, the car seat should move no more than an inch left to right. Seatbelts, if used to secure, must be pre-locked.
I had no idea that the general rule of not using anything in your car seat that didn’t come with it – i.e., head bumpers, blankets, etc. – also applies to the carrying bar. That means our pacifer pod had to go as well as all toys. According to the lead technician at the safety check event, there are no safety laws regulating these items, so when they say they are “approved” for car seats, that really doesn’t mean much. Check with your car seat manufacturer as to where the carrying bar should be while the seat is in.
The old test of checking if the shoulder straps are tight enough by placing a finger underneath them is no longer valid. Instead, you should attempt to pinch the straps at the shoulders. The crossbar should be at the armpits and snug. Additionally, heavier clothing alters the fit and allows for more space between the safety harness and baby, so they recommended using blankets on top of the harness instead of jacket-like attire.
Two safety tips they pointed out that I’d never considered: in an accident, anything in the car can be a projectile. It’s important to keep your car clear of large and hazardous items that could harm your child – or you – in the event of a crash. Additionally, unused seatbelts should be buckled to avoid hitting anything.
Children are 5x safer rear facing than forward facing, so it’s important to keep your child facing towards the back of the vehicle for as long as possible. Be sure to know the limitations of your seat in terms of weight and height, too. If the seat is ever in an accident, it must be replaced. And car seats expire - each seat should have an expiration date on it from 6 years after its manufactured date.
If you go to a safety check (please do!), be sure to bring your installed car seat, your child if possible, the manual for both your car and the seat, and a mind open to learning all sorts of new things. Just a few minutes of your time could do so much towards protecting your precious child. Check out www.safekids.org for your local car seat check location and other resources.