You have had the bags packed and by the door for weeks, ready for your infant’s arrival. But have you had your car seat checked? You’ve already installed it and you think it’s ready to go. Did you know that 9 out of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly? Installing a car seat properly can be extremely tricky and the best way to ensure it is right is to have it checked by a registered car seat technician.
It is strongly advised to purchase a new car seat. Otherwise, it is important to know the history of your car seat. It must not be past its expiration date or have sustained any damages. Something as simple as a fall from 3 feet (i.e. off a chair) could damage a seat making it unsafe for use. Often any damage is undetectable and the risk of a used car seat is not worth it.
Each car seat has minimum and maximum weight and height limits. It is recommended that you keep your child rear facing until either they reach the maximum weight or height limit for your specific car seat, whichever comes first. This is because it is the safest position for your child to be when in an accident. Do not worry about their legs being too long. They simply flop off to the side or fold up in your child’s lap. You would rather a leg injury than a brain injury in the case of an accident.
Often the car seat is not installed tight enough. If it moves more than an inch side to side at the belt path it is too loose. Another common issue is that the car seat is not level and has an incline of more than 45 degrees.
Have you practised what it would be like to put your little one in the seat? This is just as important as ensuring the seat itself is installed correctly. Often people are afraid that they are making the straps too tight. Remember that your newborn is accustomed to being in a small space and that their little bodies are extremely malleable. They need the straps to be very snug to keep them secure. A good rule of thumb is the pinch test. If you can pinch the straps between your thumb and finger at the baby’s shoulder, the straps need to be tightened.
The next most common error with car seats is something being put between the car seat and baby. There should be nothing between baby and the car seat. This means no bunting bags, extra fluffy sweaters or coats. In the event of a collision, those materials will compress possibly giving enough room for baby to be ejected from the seat. A good way to show how loose the straps can be in these scenarios is to put baby in the seat in their coat or sweater, do up the buckles to pass the pinch test and then take baby out without loosening the straps. Remove the larger article of clothing and put baby back in seat and do up the straps. Without tightening the straps, do they pass the pinch test? In the summer this is less of an issue, but when the cooler temperatures arrive you will worry about keeping baby warm. Using blankets or a shower cap type cover (goes over the car seat and not in it) is the best way to keep them warm. Blankets offer the option of removing some as the car starts to warm up, while that is not possible if they are wearing big bulky clothing.
Since we are discussing car seat safety one key item to address are items in the car which can become lethal projectiles. Make sure that the only items in your car are soft enough that they would not injure any occupant if launched at them. This includes baby mirrors, baby signs in windows, sunshades (unless manufactured as part of the vehicle), water bottles, infant cups, etc. All other items should be stored securely in your trunk.
A car seat installed incorrectly can lead to hefty fines and loss of demerit points not to mention the possible loss of a child if ever in a collision. There is a lot to learn about car seats and this blog only scratches the surface. It is strongly encouraged that you attend a car seat clinic with a certified car seat technician. The fire and police do not install or check car seats. To attend a car seat clinic contact Seats for Kids Canada (hyperlink to this website) (http://www.seatsforkidscanada.com/home.html).
For more information see the links below.