Car Seat Safety: Expert Tips to Always Keep in Mind

Sherri Hannan

Sherri Hannan, RN, is a car seat safety advocate. She has been a pediatric nurse since 1988 and took on the position of Program Coordinator of Safe Kids Fayette County in 2000.

Ms. Hannan obtained her Child Passenger Safety Technician certification in 2000 and became a Certified Child Passenger Safety Instructor in 2004. In 2006, Ms. Hannan obtained her Early Childhood Trainer's Credential as a Specialty Trainer in Child Passenger Safety for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Division of Child Care.

Recently, Ms. Hannan took the time to answer some questions about car seat safety for the readers of LoveToKnow Baby.

What Is Your Opinion of the Recent Consumer Report Study Regarding the Performance of Certain Car Seats?

It is safer for all children to ride in a child safety seat in the back seat of vehicles than to ride unrestrained. Today's car seats are safe and effective if used correctly. If you are following manufacturer's instructions, you are giving your baby the safest ride possible with current technology.

We would like to see the technology continue to improve, but we do not want parents to lose confidence in their car seats today. Read the instruction manual of the child safety seat and the vehicle manufacturer's carefully.

If parents and caregivers have additional questions, they may contact the Safe Kids office at 859-323-1153.

What Should Parents Look for When Purchasing a Car Seat?

The best seat is the one that fits your child's size, fits the vehicle, is correctly installed, and is used properly every time you drive. When shopping for a car safety seat, keep the following in mind:

  • Prices do not determine the best seat for you and your child. Higher prices can mean added features that may or may not make the seat safer or easier to use. All car safety seats available for purchase in the United States must meet very strict safety standards established and maintained by the federal government.
  • When you find a seat you like, try it out. Put your child in it and adjust the harnesses and buckles. Make sure it fits properly and securely in your car and that you are able to install it and use it correctly. Different seats can accommodate a child longer as they grow, some are only appropriate for a certain length of time. Shop around for what fits your needs and keep in mind that pictures or displays of car safety seats in stores may not always show them being used the right way.

Which Car Seat Do You Prefer for Infant Car Seat or a Convertible Car Seat?

Again, selecting a seat for a newborn will depend on the size of the child and parents' preference. Several things will need to be considered.

Infant seats with a base may be used in more than one vehicle when matching bases are used in different vehicles. Most infant seats accommodate a child only until they reach 20 pounds in weight.

A convertible car seat may be used as rear-facing and forward-facing and may be used by the child longer. Remember that the seat should fit the vehicle--some convertible seats may not fit well in smaller cars. Eighty percent of the child seat base must fit on the vehicle seat.

Finances may play a part in seat selection. Convertible seats may be the best choice if parents need to buy a new seat after baby has outgrown an infant-only seat before 1 year of age.

Why Shouldn't Parents Purchase Used Car Seats?

It is best to purchase a new child safety seat. If a second-hand seat is used, it is most important that parents know the history of the seat:

  • It should never have been in a crash.
  • Does it still have its original labels? This will indicate the make model and date of manufacture. This information is important to find out if there are any defects or recalls.
  • The use of child safety seats older than five years is not recommended.
  • Washing of safety seat covers may alter flame retardant properties.
  • The parent/caregiver must know the history of the seat.
  • The seat must have all pieces and parts and in good working order.

In Your Opinion, What Are Some of the Safest Car Seats on the Market?

Safe Kids is not in the business of condemning or recommending any particular child safety seat. All seats on the market meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. There may be certain things to consider when selecting a child safety seat such as a seat with very low rear facing harness strap slots if a newborn infant is very small so a tight fit can be obtained. Select a seat that fits your child's weight and height, fits well in the vehicle you drive and that you will use correctly on every ride.

How Does a Parent Know If He or She Has Installed a Car Seat Correctly?

Did they follow car seat and vehicle manufacturer's instructions? The child safety seat should not move more than an inch in either direction when tested at the safety belt path. There should be no slack in the harness straps when the child is buckled in. To be certain, have your seat checked by a certified child passenger safety technician. Also parents should be encouraged to tether seat when in forward- facing direction to further reduce forward motion in a crash.

What are the Safety Guidelines and Regulations for Car Seats and Ages of Children?

Child passenger safety laws vary from state to state. Kentucky's current law states that children who are 40 inches or less must be properly restrained in an appropriate child safety seat. After they have reached that milestone then they fall under the primary seat belt law requiring everyone riding in a vehicle be buckled up using the vehicle safety belt. Currently, Kentucky legislators are considering a booster seat law that would require children over 40 inches and less than 57 inches and less than 8 years old ride restrained in a booster seat.

What Other Information Do Our Readers Need to Know?

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of kids and the use of child safety seats is the single most effective way to reduce injury or death in a crash. Infant seats decrease injury by 71%, and toddler seats decrease injury by 54%. Booster seats would decrease the chance of injury by nearly 60%. Parents and care givers need to make sure their child rides correctly restrained in a correctly installed child safety seat each and every ride.

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Car Seat Safety: Expert Tips to Always Keep in Mind