Every year, 7% of children involved in car crashes are not properly restrained. That’s a scary statistic, but it doesn’t have to be your baby. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car seats reduce the risk of death by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers.
Buying a new car seat can be exhausting and stressful, but it needn’t be! Follow these helpful safety tips and make sure you avoid these six common baby car seat mistakes so you can keep your little one safe on the road:
1. Not using a rear-facing seat for as long as possible
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you should buy extended rear-facing car seats and keep your child in it until age two or until they reach the maximum height or weight limits for the seat. That might sound young, but doing so reduces the risk of spinal cord injury by 50 per cent versus forward-facing. Don’t make the mistake of rushing into a forward-facing seat before your child is ready.
2. Placing the car seat in the wrong position
The safest place for your baby is in the middle of the backseat. If your vehicle has one, use the middle lap belt instead of a shoulder belt, which can cause serious internal injuries to a small child because it hits them at chest level. Avoid using aftermarket products that claim to attach your car seat to a passenger airbag as well: these have been shown to be ineffective.
3. Ignoring the expiration date
Don’t think that just because your second-hand seat came from a friend or family member that it’s still safe to use. All car seats have an expiration date. The materials used can degrade with age, particularly if they were stored in hot conditions (like a garage).
4. Not reading the manual
Your car seat was designed to fit into your vehicle as safely as possible while meeting all regulation standards. It will also come with a manual detailing how to install it properly. The manual is not just a suggestion: it’s a requirement (as is registering your car seat with the manufacturer so you can be informed about any recalls).
5. Installing the seat incorrectly
If you’re having trouble installing your child’s car seat, ask for help from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). Most fire stations have at least one on staff and will walk you through proper installation of the seat. You can also use NHTSA’s online tool to find an inspection station near you.
6. Sitting Baby Too Soon
The law requires that babies ride rear-facing until they are at least 12 months old, and it’s recommended that babies stay rear-facing until age two or until they reach the upper height or weight limit of their car seat.
“It’s safer for children to ride rear-facing longer,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. “If you switch to a forward-facing car seat too soon, your child isn’t as well protected in a crash.”
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