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Car seat safety is paramount

by Martie-Graham-Jones

Car seats are one of those indispensable items that we tend to take for granted. Yes, we all know that car seats save lives, that they offer lots of protection for our little ones. But we can also misuse them unknowingly, endangering our babies. Let us look at some of the most common ways car seats are misused.

Does the seat fit the child? Remember that a child up to 40 pounds needs to be in a full child restraint seat. Booster seats are OK after that and should be used until the child is big enough for the shoulder strap of the seat belt to go over the shoulder of the child and not across the neck. The top of the seat must be no lower than the top of the child’s ears.

Is the seat secured properly in the vehicle? Check both the seat manufacturer’s manual and the vehicle manual. Some seat belts require a locking clip to secure the car seat. Children under 20 pounds and less than 1-year-old need to be facing the rear of the vehicle and reclined at a 45-degree angle. (To help you achieve the correct angle, it is OK to use a rolled towel or fun noodle under the seat.) After that, the seat faces forward and is upright. The safest location for a seat is in the rear seat in the middle.

Is the child secured properly in the seat? With rear-facing seats, the harness straps should be threaded through the slot placing them at or below shoulder level. With front-facing seats, the harness straps must be threaded through the top slot. Straps should be flat, in order to spread the force of a crash over a larger area. The retainer clip should be at armpit level and threaded from beneath.

Are you using after-market products? Any after-market product used inside the harness straps compromises the integrity of the car seat. If you must bundle up your child, first secure them in the seat, then wrap blankets around them. If you need to support your newborn’s head, use a rolled-up receiving blanket.

Be wary of used car seats. Some are fine, but if you do not know the history of the seat, you take a risk. Any seat that has been involved in a car accident, even a fender-bender, should have the straps replaced, as they will stretch upon impact. If you don’t know or trust the previous owner, don’t use the seat at all. It could have invisible damage. And check to make sure the seat has not been recalled. Also check for any missing hardware and the addition of any after-market products.

A caution about airbags. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat if you have a passenger airbag. It could be fatal. The only exception is if you have an airbag cut-off switch. Airbags deploy at up to 200 miles per hour. A child under 40 pounds should ride in the rear seat. If it is absolutely necessary for an older child to ride in the front seat, make sure the child is secured, does not lean forward and the vehicle seat is slid back as far as possible. Remember, the safest spot in the vehicle is the rear middle position.

If you have any questions about car seat safety, feel free to call me at the Family Support Council, 782-8692.

Martie Graham-Jones is a family caseworker with the Family Support Council.