Safe in the Seat

Car Seat Safety: Where Do We Draw the [Car] Lines?

Beep beep—it’s that time of year again! Whether you drive one kiddo to school on your way to the office or carpool the entire neighborhood, Car Line Season (also known as “Hurry-Up-and-Wait Season”) waits for no one. Here are some tips to ensure your elementary kiddos are riding through car lines safely and securely this school year: 

1. Kids should ride in a five-point harness until they outgrow it (at least age 5). 

“Age 5? Are you kidding me?” Nope. You’ve heard this one from me quite a bit, so I’ll keep it simple. A five-point harness is a restraint—and I surely don’t know many 5-and-under kids who can be trusted to sit properly without that harness. Use your seat until you reach its maximum age, height and/or weight limits. Check your car seat manual for graduation guidelines specific to your little’s seat. And, download all my free checklists here.

2. For high-back booster riders, make sure the belt guide and seat belt are both used/routed properly.  

High-back boosters are the first step to teaching our littles how to use an adult seat belt (teaching being the key word here). Parents often breathe a sigh of relief when we move to the booster stage—but proceed with caution! Moving from a five-point harness to an adult seat belt that allows you to move is a major learning process. Also, many common misuses happen in the harness-to-booster transition phase. A booster is meant to boost, right? So just put it onto the backseat, pop my kid on, and buckle them in … right? (*Breathes into a paper bag*) Remember how you thought you would know how to harness your infant in and then didn’t? Don’t be fooled twice. Seat belt positioning in a booster is critical, beginning with a seat that fits both your vehicle properly and your child safely. The seat belt guide should be used to ensure accurate placement of the shoulder belt, the shoulder/lap belt portions should be routed under the booster’s armrest when buckled, and the lap belt should be pulled tight across the thighs. Once you have the fit nailed down, it’s time to train your child to sit upright and wiggle-free for the entire ride!

3. Slow downnnn on that trip to no-back booster town. 

No-back boosters are only an option for kids aged 8+ for a reason; our mature kiddos can sit properly for the entire ride, allowing a seat belt to be most effective in the event of a crash. Plus, there must be a proper headrest for all vehicle riders at all times. If your littles can’t quite reach the car’s headrest, they’re better off getting the support they need in their current stage: a high-back booster. Even better, our kids’ growing bones don’t fully fuse until their late TEENS. You read that right. So hold on a little longer, mamas. 

4. Kids should pass the 5-step test before riding without a booster—

 —and are typically at least 4’9″ (between the ages of 10-12) before they graduate to an adult seat belt. “Why?” Because adult seat belts are for adults. We all want to be the cool parent who lets our kids do the “cool” things their friends are doing, but at the end of the day, would you rather your kid be safe and alive or “cool” and … well, you get the picture. To counteract their newfound “uncool”, ultra-safe vibe, buy them those popular new sneakers. But, no adult seat belt without passing the 5-step test. Don’t worry, it’ll be here before you know it (and soon after, they’ll be the ones driving).

5. On that note, the front seat is for teenagers.

While our kids may like to think they’re adults (eye roll), their undeveloped bones and muscles are not ready for the impact of a 200-mph airbag. Airbags are intended to protect the developed bones and muscles of adults; they can actually kill our children. So goodbye 12, hello 13-year-old’s birthday present—shotgun! Welcome to your teenage years. Current parents of teenagers probably wish they could keep all the other fun that comes with raging hormones in the backseat for much, much longer too. 

6. If the car is moving, your child should not be. 

I know it’s tempting to get a head start. We’re all in a hurry (somehow, always, every time), and we’re practically halfway out the door when we park the car, but make sure those kiddos stay properly buckled until it’s their turn to hop out. Car moving = passengers still.

7. When it’s time for pickup, don’t drive away until all kids are seated and buckled in properly.

If teachers are motioning you to get a move on, find the nearest spot to safely pull over, adjust all harnesses, and check all booster riders’ seat belt positioning. You’ll be glad you did. Then, when you jump back into the driver’s seat, buckle your own seat belt to show them how it’s done. It may take a little extra time (and a lot of extra sweat), but this step is super vital—not only to ensure the utmost safety for all tiny passengers, but to show your littles that safety should not only be a priority, but a habit. And, yes, an accident can happen on your short ride home through the back roads.

8. If any child is riding in your car, you’re responsible for their safety. 

Are you that parent caravanning the whole neighborhood? (Currently sending your award to be engraved.) Well before neighbor kiddos hop in, determine all safe seating positions in your vehicle and purchase additional car seat safety devices that you know you’ll need to accommodate them. Don’t want to buy them? Let the parents know they need to provide the stage-appropriate car seat for their kid before you agree to shuttling them around. As the driver (and adult), every little in your car is under your wing. Think about how you’d want someone else to travel with your child and do exactly that. Plus a little extra, just in case. 

Whew! Feel like a pro yet? With a million ever-changing car seat safety rules, it’s impossible to know it all, all the time. But, good news—I’m doing my best to learn it all, and I’m on this journey with you. 

Happy school days, mamas!