As Valentine’s Day approaches, most couples are contemplating chocolate, roses, and romance, but neglecting one very important item: their child’s safety seat.
February 11th–17th is National Child Passenger Safety Week. Designed to coincide with Valentine’s Day—a day spent cherishing those we love—it is also designed to bring attention to some very startling facts.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHSTA), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Although a child safety seat is the best way to protect against serious injuries and fatalities, almost 80 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly, according to NHSTA.
It’s no wonder, given the many styles, models, and brands on the market. Wading through the baby-seat jargon can be as confusing as installing the darn thing. What’s more, NHTSA recently found that the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, designed to make safety seat installations easier, was actually making installation more confusing.
So, how do parents do it right?
Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization whose mission is to prevent unintentional childhood injury, has a few rules to follow:
“If your infant car seat is less than six years old, if it’s never been in a crash, if it’s reclining at about a 45-degree angle in the car, if it’s secured tightly in the back seat and the harness straps are adjusted correctly for your baby, then you’re giving your baby the safest ride possible,” writes Lorrie Walker, technical advisor to Safe Kids Worldwide, in an advisory fact sheet.
Whoa, that’s a lot to remember. Luckily, you don’t have to. Take your safety seat to a local police station, fire station or inspection center (which can be found by searching www.seatcheck.org) and they will install it for you.
That’s exactly what Karen Pak, soon to be mom, did.
“The cop didn’t hesitate to give me some lessons. My baby seat was a hand me down and was six years old, needing to be replaced. He suggested I get a new one,” Pak says.
Hand-me-downs can be a seemingly good idea, especially since top of the line seats can run into the hundreds. In addition to making sure it’s less than six years old and hasn’t been in a crash (impossible if you buy at a second-hand store), you should check to see if the model has been recalled by visiting NHTSA’s site. You may also miss out on the manufacturer’s instructions, a crucial element in proper installation
Buying a new seat can present a new conundrum: which kind? In general, kids will go through a four-step seat progression as they mature:
- Rear-facing seats for infants. They should be kept in these seats until at least one year of age or when they reach twenty pounds.
- Forward-facing seats for kids at least one year of age or twenty pounds. They will stay in these seats usually until age four or forty pounds.
- Booster seats for kids around ages four to eight. They should still be riding in the back seat and use a booster until they reach 4'9".
- Seat belts in the back seat for kids over 4'9".
Once you’ve made sure the safety seat is compatible with your child’s height and weight, you also have to ensure it’s compatible with your car. Since there are so many models on the market, you may want to check out Consumer Report’s recent child safety seat ratings or NHTSA’s Ease of Use Ratings.
No matter what brand you end up buying, proper and consistent use of a seat is the most important factor.
Mike Livingston, a representative from Safe Kids Worldwide notes, “It is vastly more important to make sure your car seat is installed and adjusted correctly than to worry about one model or another.”