Car Seat Safety Awareness

Kathleen Shrader, RN
Ravalli County Public Health


Car Seat Safety Awareness
Car seats are one of the fundamental means of protecting an infant or child in the occurrence of a car crash. Car seats are surprisingly more complicated than many people recognize, and up to 72% of car seats are unknowingly installed incorrectly. With vehicular crashes being the leading cause of death for children in the United States, the importance of car seat safety is receiving increased recognition.

With so many varieties of car seats on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to choose for your child. The best car seat is the one that the parent or guardian can use safely and correctly every time - regardless of brand or price. All car seats available for sale in stores have been crash tested and meet defined safety standards. Therefore, parents or guardians shouldn't feel pressure to spend exorbitant amounts of money on a car seat from a store. However, parents and guardians should be wary of purchasing or using a used car seat. Used car seats may expire, have been recalled, or have been in a crash (automatically meaning they should be replaced) without the parent's knowledge.

The most common types of car seats include: rear-facing infant carriers, convertible seats (rear-facing or forward-facing depending on age of the child), combination seats, forward-facing only seats, and booster seats. Children are typically categorized into a seat type based on weight. Information regarding the weight limits of a seat can either be found on the side of the seat or in the owner's manual. Convertible and combination seats, while sometimes more expensive, will adapt to the child's growth and can be used longer than simply purchasing an infant only seat. From birth to at least two years, children should be in rear-facing seats. Rear-facing is proven to be the safest option in the occurrence of a crash. From three to seven years, children should be kept in a forward-facing car seat with harness until they reach the height or weight limit allowed by the seat manufacturer. From eight to twelve years, children should use a booster seat until tall enough to fit properly in a seat belt.

Car seats can be installed using the LATCH system or with seat belts. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. The option that will work best for the parent or guardian and that they can utilize correctly is the option that should be used. The majority of car seats call for use of one system or the other, not both. However, tethers can usually be used with most seats in conjunction with seat belts, just not lower anchors and seat belts. Information on LATCH can be found in the vehicle's owner's manual. Most vehicles manufactured in 2002 or later have the LATCH system. LATCH can only be used if the weight of the car seat and the child is less than 65 pounds total.

All of the information regarding car seats can be overwhelming. Here are some quick tips for utilizing car seats safely:
  • Avoid mirrors, toys, or padding not included with the car seat. These extras, while fun, are not crash tested and could become a projectile in the event of a crash. In addition, extra padding can hinder the car seat from working effectively during a crash.
  • When placing a child in their car seat, remove excess layers of clothing. Clothing is compressible and in the event of a crash could allow for extra movement of the child.
  • Check expiration dates, recall lists, and seat history prior to using a used car seat.
  • Use tethers when available.
  • Always be aware of airbag locations in your vehicle - found in the owner's manual. A rear-facing car seat should never be placed in the front seat of a vehicle with an active airbag.
  • Car seats should be tight enough so that the base of the seat does not move more than an inch side to side or front to back when moderate force is exerted to attempt to move it.
Installing a car seat properly can be an intimidating task. Ravalli County Public Health has two newly certified child passenger safety technicians that can educate and work with parents to properly install car seats. You can make an appointment to install your car seat with CPS-Ts at Public Health by calling 406-375- 6672. In addition, Ravalli County has car seat events taking place throughout the summer, starting in Stevensville on June 14th . On July 12th, there will be a car seat installation event in Hamilton. August 9th will be another car seat installation event in Stevensville. Take the steps to install your child's car seat correctly and safely, and make an appointment to have your seat checked or attend an installation event!
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