The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates between 73 and 94 percent of parents aren’t properly securing their children in car seats. Chances are you may be one of those parents, but the NHTSA and other safety experts plan to simplify the way you buckle up you precious cargo.
Rear- or Forward-Facing?
MISTAKE: Parents turning their children forward-facing before age 2.
WHY IT’S A MISTAKE: For starters, experts are adamant about the need to keep children in the rear-facing position for as long as possible, recommending age 2 as the minimum age to shift to the forward-facing position.
“Forward-facing kids have much more risk of head injury, cervical spine injury and lower extremity injury. Even you and I would be better off rear-facing if we could,” says Julie Prom, Chicco USA’s Child Safety Advocate.
Despite good intentions, many parents struggle with the thought of keeping children rear-facing until age 2 because they see lengthening limbs and sitting cross-legged as uncomfortable for their child. Prom urges parents to stop foisting perceptions on their children and to consider the bigger safety picture: “The biggest thing I remind mothers is how crunched their child was in their stomach. Babies are extremely flexible, and children are extremely flexible. Think of it this way—a broken leg heals a lot better than a cervical spine injury,” adds Prom.
MISTAKE: Using both the LATCH system and the seatbelt to secure the car seat.
WHY IT’S A MISTAKE: Double protection doesn’t necessarily mean double safety when it comes to the safety belt and LATCH systems. “Never use LATCH and the vehicle safety belt at the same time,” explains Prom, “as it can affect the crash performance of the car seat.” Here’s why:
Weightier car seats and heavier children precipitated amendments in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, which calls for a uniform system of weight limits with the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). The new standard mandates a maximum 65 pounds combined weight, which means child weight and car seat together should not exceed 65 pounds if being secured by LATCH. Once this threshold is crossed, parents should forgo LATCH and just use the seatbelt to stabilize the carseat.
MISTAKE: Transitioning your child from car seat to booster seat too soon.
WHY IT’S A MISTAKE: Graduating from the car seat certainly removes the aforementioned guesswork out of positioning safety, but Prom encourages a more methodical approach to transitioning your tyke to the booster seat.
“A child’s age and size are really secondary to their maturity level. Will your child really sit still for that long in a booster seat and be in the right position if a crash were to occur? Most kids aren’t sitting still until first grade,” alleges Prom.
Age as the deciding factor goes against conventional wisdom about car seats because many parents see changes as solely contingent on height and weight. Instead, think of car seat decisions as a matter of development. Time is the only determinant for a fully developed cervical spine, which is necessary for combating against long-term serious injury.
Radically altering the way we think about car seat safety might shock your children the most, particularly older kids who were raised on obsolete methods. The trick to getting it right with the younger siblings is to pair changes in car seat direction, LATCH and graduating to a booster with other life events.
“Tie in graduation to a booster seat with graduation from kindergarten. It goes hand-in-hand with being a big kid,” encourages Prom.
To learn more about car seat safety laws and find a car seat installation station near you, visit safercar.gov.