Published in August 2019 Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine
If only I had known. No parent wants to utter those words after any sort of event where their child was injured or worse. Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children 12 and under with one crash happening every 13 seconds. That’s why events such as Child Passenger Safety Week, being held September 23-29, 2018, are so critical in helping parents and caregivers ensure that their children are safely buckled up and riding in the correct and properly installed car seat for their ages, height, weight and emotional maturity.
The reality is, when it comes to car seat safety, it can be really hard to know all you need to. Information comes at us from every direction, much of it confusing, outdated or opinion based. The car seat manuals are daunting. Youtube videos often more confusing than helpful. And, here in Tampa Bay, finding an appointment with a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician is no easy task.
So how do we keep our kids safe in their seats? There is a long list of individual car seat misuses that can be dependent on the car, the car seat, the child and the installer. Those variables are different for everyone and are best answered by thoroughly reading your car seat manual and your car manual. That said, there are a couple of must knows that apply to all of us:
- Slow Down!
Your car seat cost a pretty penny; use it until your child reaches the age, weight or height limits! We want to keep kids rear facing as long as we can, it is by far the safest way to travel. Another factor to consider before going to the next stage (and one you won’t find in your manual) is the emotional maturity of your child. On average, children should be in a child passenger safety seat of some kind until they are age 12, and in the back seat until they are age 13!
- Car Seats need to stay in the car
When installed correctly, a car seat should not move more than one-inch side to side, front to back and up and down. You can achieve a tight fit using the seatbelt method or the lower anchor and tether (LATCH) method. They are equally safe—use whichever method gets you the safest installation! And, remember, there are weight limits for the use of the LATCH system and a tether must always be used in forwarding facing mode.
- Kid needs to stay in the car seat
A properly installed car seat without a properly harnessed child is not safe! We want to make sure the child’s shoulder straps stay on their shoulders in a crash so they can do their job and limit movement. To do this, the chest clip should be at armpit level and depending on the way your child is facing, those shoulder straps need to be placed correctly when coming out of the car seat’s shell.
- Age and condition matter
Car seats expire. Know your expiration date and if your seat is expired either wait for the Target trade in event (usually in May) or, cut the straps and write “expired” on the shell of the seat so a passerby does not pick it up. If it is not safe for your child to use, it is not safe for any child to use. If you do plan to borrow or use a hand-me-down car seat, you want to ensure that it is not expired, has all parts and the manual that came with the seat, has been cleaned with only approved products, has not traveled under an airplane and has not been in a car crash of any kind.
- Parents set the example
Car safety is something we must prioritize our entire lives. We set the example for our children, so every time you get into the car, take the 3 seconds to buckle up and ensure all of your passengers do the same. Buckling up whether in an adult seat belt or in a child car seat is the single greatest thing we can do to prevent injury and death in the event of a car crash. Teach your child that being safe in their seat is a lifelong commitment!
Keeping our children safe is one of our greatest responsibilities as parents. We all want nothing more than for our kids to be safe, yet here at Safe in the Seat, we have yet to visit a parent or caregiver who has not had at least one major misuse. Rather than thinking we know, let’s know we know our children are safe in their seats, and that those seats are being used correctly on every ride in every car.