• Sara Silvestri, MD FAAP

Riding Safely in Their Car Seats

After a year of social distancing and spending so much time at home, I think most of us are excited for some more normalcy coming back to life and the great summer weather to enjoy it. This means more time away from our homes, more travel and more time spent in the car. Car seats are essential for the safety of our children but even the best car seat is only as good as it's installation and use. Follow these tips to make sure your children are as safe as can be in the comfort of their seats.

  • Do Your Research. So many baby things are non-essential or personal preference. Deciding upon a car seat is one time when you are making a decision which could be life altering and deserves the time to do the research to choose the best car seat for your car. This may involve measuring the seats in your car, looking at the angle at which the seat sits and considering purchasing the car seats at a retailer that would allow you to return it, if it does not fit correctly. Don't be afraid to ask friends or family if you can try out their seats in your car.

  • Beware of used car seats. Every car seat has an expiration date and sometimes used seats will be beyond that date. Car seats also come with accessories that are specific to that seat and are not interchangeable. Lastly once a car seat is in an accident, it should not be reused. Unless you are completely sure of the history of the seat and the pieces with it, it's safer to purchase a new car seat.

  • Read the owner's manual. So many things we are able to use and figure out without reading a manual. While you may be able to do that with a car seat, it's not recommended. The safety testing that is required of all car seats in the United States is done based on the correct installation explained in the owner's manual. It's important that you follow the directions very closely to achieve the correct installation for your car. It's estimated that almost half of car seats are not installed correctly which could leave your child unprotected despite even the highest quality seat. A seat that is properly installed should have very limited wiggle (less than 1 inch) in any direction whenever you try to move it.

  • Location, Location, Location. This time, check the owner's manual for your car and see if the car manufacturer has a suggested position for maximum car seat safety. Children under the age of 2 should be rear facing and children under the age of 4 should be kept in a five point harness. A child should remain in a booster seat until he or she is at least 4 feet 9 inches and a minimum of 8 years old. Children under the age of 12 should always be in the back seat. These however should be viewed as minimum requirements. It's safest to not move a child to the next stage until they have exceeded the weight and height limit for the stage that they are currently at per the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Hit the right spots. The five-point harness must rest in the correct areas to protect babies and young children and avoid further injuries. All of the clasps need to be over bony areas. The chest strap should be over the breastbone at the level of the armpits. The bottom strap needs to sit on the pelvis bone. There should be very little space - only about a fingers depth- between the straps and the child, so don't be afraid to tighten them up. For this reason, wearing winter coats or thick puffy clothes under the straps is not recommended.

  • Posture check! If you baby slouches and cannot sit upright, check the manufacturer's instructions but most allow rolled receiving blankets to be placed on either side of the baby and possibly even a rolled washcloth to be placed under the pelvic strap.

  • Ask for help. Car seats can be heavy and awkward and simply getting them to the car may be a victory. Installing them properly is even more challenging and can be a very stressful process for parents. Don't be afraid to ask for help or to get a second opinion on your installation. A Child Passenger Safety Technicican or Car Seat Technician is a someone specially trained to be experts on car seats and their installations. Many times these individuals are associated with your local police or fire departments, which are great places to start. You can also find a local technician through this website.

Using a properly installed car seat is one of the single best things that you can do to protect your child from serious harm. Doing this though takes time and diligence so prepare yourself in advance and then you have have the peace of mind that your little one is safe.

Of note, this picture was taken as we were going out for a walk which explains all of the accessories. Having anything around a baby that could fly in the air during a car crash is not recommended. He was just too cute not to use this picture though!

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