Children’s car safety seats: Are you using yours correctly?


baby in a car seat

Are you using your child’s car safety seat properly? A 2016 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests you might not be. More than half the car seats looked at in the report were improperly installed or incorrectly used. Similar studies conducted independently showed even higher levels of misuse. While some of the errors found in these studies were small, others were large enough to negate the safety of the seat entirely. As Miriam Manary, senior engineering research associate at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, told the New York Times:

“… somewhere around 35 percent of it is gross misuse where they’re not going to get any protection from that system — things like not securing the child restraint into the vehicle or not harnessing the child in the child restraint system.”

Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death in children, and forty percent of children killed in automobile crashes were unrestrained. Correctly using a child’s car safety seat can reduce the risk of fatal injury by more than half. The child safety group Safe Kids Worldwide offers free children’s car seat checks. Look at their website to see if they’re sponsoring an event near you. If there are no safety checks nearby, Safe Kids Worldwide also offers a list of technicians qualified to check that your children’s car safety seat is properly installed and that you’re using it right.

Here are some pointers to help make sure your children are getting the safest ride out of their car seats:

Don’t forget the top tether. All children’s car seats have at least three anchor straps. Some have five. It’s easy to forget that important top strap.

Check the expiration date. Like all good things, children’s car seats won’t last forever. Wear and tear, exposure to heat and UV light — all these things take their toll. Most convertible car seats are good for 10 years; most infant seats for 6. Check your warranty card to see when yours expires.

Been in a wreck? Throw it out. A damaged car seat is an ineffective car seat. If you’ve been in a serious accident while your child’s car seat was in the car with you, maybe toss it and get a new one.

And finally, some good news: more expensive doesn’t always mean better. All children’s car safety seats have to meet the same federal standards. They’re tested by the NHTSA to make sure that all models on the market conform to those guidelines. Some models may be more convenient, more versatile, better looking, or have a better cup holder – but they’re still providing the same baseline safety features.

So keep these tips in mind, do your homework, and before you take a spin, strap ‘em in!