The Five Most Common Car Seat Mistakes
Parents often ask car seat experts what is the safest seat for their child. Truth be told, it is not the brand of seat they purchase, but making sure it is being used correctly that is what will save their child’s life. Car seats are very protective and effective in preventing injuries and
death, but they must be used correctly in order to provide this protection. Unfortunately, most parents are not using their car seats correctly, with misuse reported from 70 to 99 percent
depending on which study is used.
Children are at greater risk than adults in a vehicle crash. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death for children 14 and under. Safety belts and car seats are
the single most effective tool in reducing these deaths and injuries.
Here is a list of the most common mistakes we see with car seats and how they can be
avoided. Checking the list and making sure your child’s car seat is being used correctly can very likely prevent a needless tragedy.
1. Selection Errors:
Most children leave the hospital in a rear-facing only infant seat, although some leave in
a rear-facing convertible seat. The rear-facing convertible seat is usually the next step
after the infant seat. Children should remain rear-facing until they reach the maximum
height or weight limit for the rear-facing convertible seat. Most convertible seats go to at
least 40 pounds rear-facing, while there are some that go to 45 and 50 pounds
rear-facing. At 40 to 50 pounds, it could accommodate an average 3-to-4-year-old.
Children should ride in a forward–facing harnessed seat until they reach the height or
weight limit for the seat. The average forward–facing seat goes to at least 40 pounds in
the harness, with many available that go to 50, 65, 70 or even 85 pounds.
When the limit of the forward-facing seat has been reached, caregivers can consider a
booster seat if the child is at least 4 years old, 40 pounds, and mature enough to stay
correctly seated and buckled for the entire trip.
Booster seats should be used until the child correctly fits the seat belt. This is usually
sometime between 8 and 12 years old. Although the law in Texas states that children at
age 8 can legally ride in a seat belt, for most children at this age the lap and shoulder
belt does not fit correctly. The lap belt riding over the child’s abdomen and soft tissue
and organs can cause serious or fatal injuries in a crash. The shoulder belt needs to fit
correctly across the middle of the shoulder and flat across the chest. It should not rub
against the child’s neck, causing them to put it behind their shoulder and leaving them
with no upper body protection.
Seat belts can be used when the child can sit up straight, bend their knees at the edge
of the vehicle bench, touch the floor, and have a good fit of the lap belt over the upper
2. Direction Errors:
Most parents are turning their child forward–facing too soon. Parents are understandably
anxious to see their child forward–facing so that they can better interact with them.
However, research shows that rear-facing is the safest way for a small child to travel.
Rear-facing helps to align the child’s head, neck and spine and spreads the crash
forces over the child’s body rather than concentrating them in any one area. When a
child’s legs are against the back of the vehicle seat it is often misinterpreted as a sign
that the child is too big to be rear-facing. It is important to know that children’s joints are
still forming and remain very flexible and they are not uncomfortable with their legs
against the back of the seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends
keeping a child rear-facing until they reach the maximum weight or height limit for the
3. Harnessing Errors:
Many children are riding with harness systems that are loose and not at the correct
position in relation to the child’s shoulders. Rear-facing seats should have the harness
at or below the child’s shoulders, while forward-facing seats need to have the harness
at or above the shoulders. The plastic clip that comes on all harnessed seats needs to
go across the chest armpit to armpit in order to make sure that the straps are properly
positioned on the child’s shoulders.
Make sure that the harness is snug by testing the webbing at the child’s shoulders. If
you can pinch up any of the webbing, it is too loose. Do not add anything to a harness
system that did not come with the seat — as it is not crash tested and may interfere with
the seat performance. Proper harnessing helps to prevent movement, which in turn
helps to protect the child from injuries.
4. Installation Errors:
Installing a car seat using the vehicle seat belt requires the user to know what part of
the seat belt locks in the car seat. Unlike an adult in a seat belt, where the seat belt will
lock up in a crash or a sudden stop, the car seat must be pre-crash locked from the
moment the vehicle starts. Vehicles made in 1996 and newer are required to have a
way to lock in a car seat in every position except the driver’s seat. Most vehicles have a
shoulder belt retractor that — when gently pulled all the way out — will change from
locking in an emergency to locking all the time for a car seat. Some car manufacturers
put the locking mechanism in the latch plate instead of a shoulder belt.
The 2003 model vehicles have LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children)
installed in at least two seating positions. The lower anchors and the tether take the
place of the seat belt and should not be used together with the seat belt unless both the
car seat and vehicle instructions allow this. Make sure to use the correct lower anchors
for the installation. Many cars do not have lower anchors in the center rear position.
Sometimes a center lower anchor position can be created if the vehicle and car seat
manufacturer agree. Neither LATCH nor the seat belt are safer than the other. Choose
the system that gives the best installation and is easy to use correctly. Whether using
seats. Check the car seat at the belt path to make sure it is secure. It should not move more
than 1 inch side–to–side or front–to–back when tugged on at the belt path.
5. Skipping a Free Inspection:
It is important to read the manual that comes with your car seat as well as the owner’s
manual from your vehicle in order to make sure you are using the car seat correctly and
installing it correctly in the vehicle. In addition, have your car seat inspected by a
certified child passenger safety technician.
That’s why the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Passenger Safety Project and
Austin County Family and Community Health Extension Agent, Michelle Wright, are
urging all parents and caregivers to attend the child safety seat checkup event on
Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Bellville, Texas underneath the Austin County Fairgrounds
Pavilion. Certified technicians will be available to provide on-site child safety seat
inspections and education from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m. Be sure that your child is riding in the
right seat, going in the right direction, harnessed properly and installed correctly by
getting a free car seat inspection.