AAA has put together a list of the twelve biggest mistakes parents make when using a car seat. Some items on the list may seem like insignificant oversights, but even the smallest error in properly securing these safety devices can compromise their effectiveness in the event of a crash.
Read on to see the mistakes parents are making and how you can prevent them from happening to you.
1. Moving a child out of a booster seat too soon.
Seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. Putting a child that isn't ready into an adult seat belt can result in an abdominal or neck injury in the event of a sudden stop or crash. AAA recommends keeping your child in a booster seat until they are absolutely ready to fit into adult seat belts, which usually occurs between ages eight and twelve, depending on growth and development. Children should be able to sit with their back against the seat, knees bending at the edge of the seat and feet touching the floor. The lap belt should be positioned low across their hips and upper thighs with the shoulder belt across their chest and collarbone.
2. Not installing the car seat tightly enough.
If a car seat is installed too loosely, it can subject a child to much greater force during a crash. A car seat should not move more than one inch front-to-back or side-to-side when installed correctly.
3. Harness straps too loose.
Having the harnesses too loose on a child is very dangerous, as they will not be properly restrained in the event of a crash. This can result in subjugation to much greater force and even ejection from the seat entirely. Harnesses should lie flat without any twists. Ensure that they are snug enough that you cannot pinch any extra material at the child's shoulder.
4. Retainer clip (or chest clip) is too low.
The retainer clip helps keep the child secure in the car seat. If a retainer clip is too low, a child can come out of the harnesses or the hard, plastic retainer clip can cause internal damage. AAA recommends ensuring that the clip is placed at armpit level.
5. Turning your child forward-facing too soon.
According to AAA, children in the second year of life are 5 times less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash if they ride in a rear-facing car seat. A child should remain in a rear-facing seat until they reach the upper weight or height limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Once this happens, then switch to a rear-facing convertible car seat with higher height and weight limits.
6. Allowing a child under the age of 13 to ride in the front seat.
Children under the age of 13 are almost always too small to ride in the front seat, and they can be seriously injured by air bags in the event of a crash. Be safe and do not allow a child up front until they are a teenager.
7. Forgetting the top tether.
Neglecting to use the top tether on a car seat will subject a child's head and neck to excessive forward movement. When recommended, always use the top tether with either LATCH or seat belt installations.
8. Adding additional toys, padding or mirrors to a child's seat.
Don't add additional stuff to a car seat, as it can interfere with the seat performing the way it was designed to during a crash. Toys and mirrors can turn into dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident, as well. AAA recommends only using products that come with the seat or are recommended by the seat manufacturer. Secure all loose items in a vehicle trunk or storage space.
9. Installing a car seat using LATCH in the center rear seat of a vehicle (when not permitted by the manufacturer).
Most vehicles do not support LATCH in the center rear seat. Using lower anchors intended for the outboard seats could cause the whole system to fail and the car seat to be thrown in a crash. Refer to the vehicle's owner's manual and only use lower anchors in approved seating positions.
10. Transporting unsecured, heavy items (including pets) in the vehicle.
Loose items can turn into nasty projectiles during a crash. Secure items in a trunk or other storage location. Properly restrain pets with approved devices.
11. Installing a car seat using both LATCH and a seat belt.
More is not better in this scenario. Using more than one system to secure a car seat can put unnecessary stress on the seat, affecting its performance during a crash.
12. Having children wear bulky coats/sweaters while buckled into a car seat.
Unapproved padding, including coats and sweaters, placed behind or under the harness can compress in a crash, resulting in slack in the harness system. AAA says that you should always place blankets or jackets over the child after the harness is snug and secure.