By Joni Gray
Sure, we all want our kids to be safe in the car, but a recent study by General Motors Foundation and Safe Kids USA shows that 73% of car seats are not being used properly. In fact, the risk of fatalities among kids could be reduced by 71% if we’d simply install the right seat the right way in the right place in the car.
This becomes even more vital in light of the fact that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 3 to 14. In fact, 500 children are injured and four kids die every day in cars, trucks, and SUVs across the nation.
The bottom line is that babies and children need to ride in a car seat from the time they’re born until they are 7 or 8 years old in most cases. This potentially means that up to four seats per child will need to be researched, purchased, installed, and evaluated until the child is large enough to safely ride sitting in a seat with only a seatbelt.
A NATIONAL CAUSE
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has named Sept. 16 – 22 Child Passenger Safety Week and children’s safety advocates are out in full force to raise awareness with parents and caregivers to pay closer attention to buckle up their babies in the right way. This sounds fundamental, but it may be more difficult to do that than you think.
In fact, GM, the largest American auto manufacturer, has been partnered with Safe Kids USA for the past 15 years building a national program called Safe Kids Buckle Up that started with child seat safety checks at GM dealers. The program has since expanded to 80,000 car seat checkpoints across the country performed by certified experts with 30 hours in training — like CPR training, but for car seat installation. These checkpoints can be accessed by appointment anytime throughout the year and can be located through Safe Kids USA’s website.
WHAT’S OUR PROBLEM?
So what are we doing wrong? There are rules and 73% of us either break them or are unaware of them. Both the car and the car seat have detailed installation instruction manuals — typically, we don’t read them and install correctly. Car seats have height and weight limits — we don’t always follow them. Babies should be kept in rear-facing seats for as long as possible (sometimes until they are 3 years old, depending on their weight and height) — we flip them back around prematurely or put them in the front seat. Car seats have recalls and we may not have noticed. And then there’s the straps; the LATCH, the angles, the correct tightening of the harness — the list is seemingly endless.
CORRECTING THE FIVE MOST COMMON MISTAKES
Thankfully, Safe Kids USA organization has culled some of the most important tips for parents, grandparents, and caregivers to check out immediately before taking another trip to the grocery store.
1. Right Seat
Check the label on your car seat to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight, and height. Like milk, your car seat has an expiration date. Just double check the label on your car seat to make sure it is still safe.
2. Right Place
Tell your kids they are VIPs and we know all VIPs ride in the back seat, so keep all children in the back seat until they are 13.
3. Right Direction
You want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, usually until around age 2. When he or she outgrows the seat, move your child to a forward-facing car seat. Make sure to attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.
4. Inch Test
Once your car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the base. Can you move it more than an inch side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.
5. Pinch Test
Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check car seat manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.
PRODUCTS AND PRICING
With 22 children’s car seat manufacturers, building more than 30 brands of various products, the research and purchase choices are almost as baffling as buying a new car. Each seat has a definitive height and weight limit and, just like milk, an expiration date. Pricing is all over the map, but two excellent resources for ratings and reviews are Consumer Reports Car Seats Buying Guide and the NHTSA’s Ease of Use Ratings.
There are actually five types of seats on the market:
Convertible car seats: Can accommodate children rear facing — most up to 35 lbs. — then can be turned forward facing for up to 80 lbs. in some cases. Convertible car seats range in price from $45 – $360 retail.
Infant car seats: An array of infant car seats — some only accommodating a child up to 22 lbs. and some going slightly over that weight — range in price from $55 – $230.
All-in-one car seats: Only a few all-in-one seats are on the market that range in price from $150 – $300, but they give you the benefit of providing every function from rear-facing to front-facing to booster seat on one unit. Some grow with your child from birth to 100 lbs.
Toddler booster seats: These are forward-facing seats with an internal harness for toddlers weighing between 20 – 90 lbs. Although these seats allow for babies as small as 20 lbs., it is recommended by safety experts that a child should be in a rear-facing seat until they are 30 – 35 lbs. Toddler booster seats range in price from $50 – $255.
Booster seats: For children weighing 40 to 100 lbs., boosters should be used until a child is at least 57 inches tall which is the minimum height at which a car’s seatbelt will fit him/her properly. Booster seats are the least expensive of the group — ranging from $14 – $95 retail.
GM spokesperson Heather Rosenker said that some family-oriented SUV and car manuals actually recommend certain seats that fit best in that particular car. And car companies have a vested interest in keeping occupants safe, so it’s no real surprise. In that spirit, GM and Safe Kids USA have continued to create several national programs for child safety from infants to teens.
“We want to focus on the education of parents and caregivers to keep their kids safe while driving,” Rosenker said. And perhaps that advice is more challenging than most of us know.