How to safely buckle up your child

November 16, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Do you know how long to wait until you switch your little one to a forward-facing seat? Did you know your kid must be a teenager to ride in the front seat?

Trying to keep up with current information on car seat safety can be exhausting for parents. But this is one detail you want to get right.

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children in this country. In 2015, 248 children under 5 were saved by car seats. How can you make sure your little ones are safely buckled up on every car trip?

First, find an age- and size-appropriate seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a search tool to find the right car seat for your child, based on her birthdate, height and weight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers tips for parents when shopping for car seats:

  • No one seat is the "best" or "safest." The best seat is the one that fits your child's size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is used properly every time you drive.
  • Don't decide by price alone. A higher price does not mean the seat is safer or easier to use.
  • Avoid used seats if you don't know the seat's history.

Never use a car seat that:

  • Is too old. Look on the label for the date it was made. Check with the manufacturer to find out how long it recommends using the seat.
  • Has any visible cracks on it.
  • Does not have a label with the date of manufacture and model number. Without these, you cannot check to see if the seat has been recalled.
  • Does not come with instructions. You need them to know how to use the seat.
  • Is missing parts. Used car seats often come without important parts. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you can get the right parts.
  • Was recalled. You can find out by calling the manufacturer or contacting the NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 or checking the website.
  • Do not use seats that have been in a moderate or severe crash. Seats that were in a minor crash may still be safe to use, but some car seat manufacturers recommend replacing the seat after any crash, even a minor one.
  • If you are unsure, call the manufacturer of the seat.

Once you have your seat, you need to properly install it, using either the lower anchors or a seat belt to secure it in place. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s graphic on proper car seat installation. Once installed, go to a child safety seat inspection station near you, or to your local police station. They’ll inspect it, usually free of charge.

As your child grows, your car seat will need to change. But it’s important not to switch seats too early.

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. Why? Young children in a forward-facing seat are five times more likely to be seriously injured than those in a rear-facing seat. A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash.

The AAP breaks down the types of car seats for each age group:

  • Infants and toddlers: All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat until they are at least age 2 or reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer.
  • Toddlers and preschoolers: Children who have outgrown their rear-facing seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible (until at least age 5), up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat manufacturer.
  • School-age children: All children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat (~ages 5 and up) should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly*, typically when they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height (~8-12 years of age).
  • Older children: When children are old enough and large enough for the vehicle seat belt to fit them correctly*, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the best protection. Keep all kids under age 13 in the back seat.

*Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays low and snug across the hips and upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the middle of the chest and shoulder (not the neck).

The takeaway: Have your child remain in her seat as long as possible, until she hits the weight or height limit allowed on the seat.

Learn about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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