Having recently completed a Child Passenger Safety Technician course, I can now inspect and educate caregivers on the importance of properly installed child car seats and safety restraint systems. Being a firefighter with my three children — all in different car seats — I thought I was a self-taught pro. Boy, was I wrong. I didn’t know that three out of every four seats are not used or installed correctly. Now certified, I will share some basic information to help prevent future injuries and deaths.
Road injuries are the leading cause of preventable deaths and injuries to children in the United States. Used correctly, child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent.
There are primarily three types of child seats; rear facing only, forward or rear facing and belt-positioning booster seats. There are also “All-in-Ones” that are designed to fit different ages as the child grows. When choosing your safety seat, ask yourself whether it is compatible with the vehicle and seat location; whether it will properly protect the child based on their height, weight and age; and whether the person caring for the child will be able to properly use it.
Remember, there isn’t a perfect seat for everyone. The best choice is one that properly fits the vehicle, child and is easy for the caregiver to use.
Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization that champions child safety and injury prevention, offers the following tips:
Install the seat in a back seat using one of two systems: either locked seat belt or lower attachments, but not both at the same time. After installed, make sure the car seat is snug enough to pass the Inch Test. A properly-installed seat should not move more than one inch side to side or front to back when pulled at the seat’s belt path.
Infants and children should ride rear facing till at least 2-years-old. Keep your child rear facing as long as appropriate as it offers greater protection. In a front-end crash, a rear-facing car seat allows your child’s head, neck and spine to move evenly into the seat, not away from it. Check the car seat’s angle indicator to make sure the recline-angle is correct. Place your baby in the seat, their back and bottom should be flat against the car seat. Do not put anything behind or underneath them, such as a blanket or pillow.
Check the harness straps — make sure they come through the seat’s slots at or just below your baby’s shoulders. Buckle and tighten the strap each time you put your child in the harness so it is snug. Do the pinch-test to make sure you cannot pinch excess strap at your baby’s shoulders. Position the chest clip to be level with your baby’s armpits.
After your child is at least 2-years-old and reaches the weight limit for rear-facing, you will then turn the seat forward-facing, using the five-point harness. All forward-facing car seats must be installed using a top tether; connected to the car’s anchor, it reduces the forward motion of the seat in a crash. Keep a child as long as possible within the manufacturers’ guidelines in a seat with a 5-point harness, it will offer more protection than a booster with regular seatbelt. Your child may need a forward-facing car seat with a harness that has higher limits before moving to a booster seat.
Make sure that the harness straps come through the car seat’s slots at or just above your child’s shoulders. Loosen and tighten the harness each time you put your child in the seat to get a snug fit. Buckle it and do the pinch-test to check. Position the chest clip to be level with your child’s armpits.
After your child gets too big for the weight or height limits of the forward-facing car seat, put your child in a booster seat with the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt. Many parents aren’t sure when to switch their child to a booster seat — if the child isn’t physically and mentally mature enough to stay in the seat, they aren’t ready.
Booster-seated children in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone. When in the booster seat, make sure the lap and shoulder belts fit. The belt must lie flat across your child’s chest, on the bony part of the shoulder and low on the hips or upper thighs.
Most kids will be between ages 8 to 12 years old before they are ready for the seat belt alone. If the child’s knees don’t rest past the seat, and their feet don’t touch the floor, they aren’t ready yet.
Remember, always follow the manufacturers’ guidelines, and discard expired seats or those damaged in accidents. Visit www.safekids.org for more information.
Lt. Sam Pinto is a career firefighter, paramedic, nationally certified fire instructor, and certified fire and life safety educator. He can be reached at SPinto@iaff287.org.