One of the things I do most frequently is place my sons in their car seats. I rarely think twice about the safety of the installation. I am usually more concerned about the straps that go over my sons and I want to make sure those are secure enough to keep them from moving in the event of a crash. But I have been thinking lately, “Am I missing something? Are the anchors to the frame of my car tight enough? How do I even know if the anchors are tight enough?” The stats can be scary—according to the CDC in 2011, over 650 children ages 12 and under died in motor vehicle crashes. More than 148,000 were injured. Those are scary big numbers. Of the 650 plus that died, 1/3 were NOT buckled up. (See http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/child_passenger_safety/cps-factsheet.html). Just think, perhaps 217 lives could have been saved just by using a car seat.
I honestly don’t know when the seat is safely installed. Turns out I am not alone—in fact, 96% of parents think their seat is installed safely but 7 out of 10 of those parents are wrong. (See http://www.seatcheck.org/news_fact_sheets_statistics.html). So I checked my 18 month old’s seat last night. I pulled and pulled on the straps that anchor the seat to the frame. It seemed tight but the seat still wobbled a bit. Why? With a little investigation, I found the straps to be twisted. Those straps were out of my view and twisted in a way that caused them to artificially appear taut. I checked around on the web and came across a great app from the American Academy of Pediatrics (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/car-seat-check/id584790382?mt=8). It is $1.99 and available on itunes. It’s definitely worth a look for both parents and grandparents.
The app gives plenty of useful info that most moms know but I bet most dads, like me, were unaware. For instance, I thought we needed a rear facing seat until my son was 2 years old but my son is too big for any rear facing seat. Instead of being worried every time someone is driving too fast or approaching quickly behind me, I learned that using rear or front facing is less about age and more about weight. Very minor crashes can be catastrophic to children less than1 year old. Why? Because the neck muscles are underdeveloped and the inertia caused by the crash cannot be reduced by the neck muscles. That results in a very serious whipping of an infant’s neck. It can easily snap or cause a significant spinal cord injury.
Here are some simple steps you must make certain are followed when installing a car seat:
- Find the anchors. The anchors are behind the headrests in the back seats and near each seat buckle. You may have to dig into the seats to get them but they will be there. Search for them. There is usually a small picture or identifier showing you where they are.
- Clip the strap into the anchor. Most of the straps are carabineer-type hooks that can slide onto the anchor. Make sure it is tight and secure. I found that my cellphone flashlight works great for making sure I can see it’s installed correctly. Takes all of 2 seconds to check.
- Make sure your anchor straps are not twisted in any fashion. This can be confusing because of the angles of the seat, the straps and the anchors. However, there is no room for twisting because any twisting allows for movement and movement is bad. It is also tough because it is difficult to see what you are doing. A lot of this will be done by feel—so run your hands along the straps and see if it is twisted. If so, redo it. This isn’t something you can do “good enough”. It has to be right.
- Once the straps are secured to the car’s anchors and there are no twists, knots or kinks, pull to tighten. It is exactly like you would do an airplane seat belt but with more effort. What I have found is that twisting usually occurs when I pull too fast. This causes the seat to be loose. You cannot secure the strap correctly with one swift pull—it just won’t happen because the strap will get twisted. Pull a little, check for twists. Pull again, check for twists. One more pull should do it and it should be very, very snug. If there is any movement, start of over.
- One spot that is overlooked, or at least I used to overlook it, is the strap that goes from the head portion to the top anchor in your car. You must pull that tight because the headrest will usually allow for movement—it creates a soft buffer between the anchor and the strap. You don’t want that. Make sure the strap is completely vertical and coming at a straight line to the anchor. Then pull that strap tight. Many times. And make sure the strap is not twisted. I have found the more the strap is directly above the anchor and not at an angle, the tighter I can get it. If you can get under your headrest, do it. Many rear seat headrests do not move up or down—DO NOT GO OVER IT. Go under for the most secure anchoring.
- Finally, do not neglect the seatbelt. Whether you have a shoulder strap or lap belt, make sure you have no twists and it is securely buckled in. The seat belt is not optional after the anchors. It supplements the anchors. Once you pass that seatbelt through the car seat and click it in, make sure you manually tighten it. Do not rely on the auto-recoil of the seatbelt to sufficiently tighten the seatbelt strap.
Many hospitals inspect your installation when you leave after the birth of your child. But we all switch cars back and forth so make sure every time you install a child’s car seat, you do it with a little patience and thoroughness. This will prevent needless danger to your child and protect them in minor crashes.