Parents go to great lengths to make sure their children are safe. But when it comes to car seat safety, too frequently minor mistakes can put children at risk without parents realizing it. During National Child Passenger Safety Week, September 15-21, AAA Mid-Atlantic warns parents of the six common car seat mistakes.
Installing a car seat correctly is no easy task. In fact, it is estimated that nearly three out of four car seats are not properly installed. Despite technologies, such as Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), aimed at simplifying the car seat installation process, many parents are still missing the mark. According to a recent AAA survey of Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs), those certified to inspect and properly install car seats, often found that parents misuse the LATCH, which is cause for concern. Nearly three quarters of CPSTs surveyed observe parents misusing the LATCH system more than half of the time.
"While significant strides have been made to make car seats easier to use, the overwhelming majority of car seats are still not installed properly," said Ragina C. Averella, Public and Government Affairs Manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic.
"AAA Mid-Atlantic reminds parents to protect their most precious cargo by having their car seat installations inspected by a professional and ensuring their young children are safely and correctly restrained – every trip, every time," stated Averella.
In Maryland, child passenger safety laws passed last year removes the 65-pound exemption for booster seat use, which under previous law could have exempted a younger child who is heavier from the State’s booster seat law. The law exempts children taller than 4’9", despite weight. Most child passenger safety experts and pediatricians believe that height and bone density play a larger role regarding a correct seat belt fit than does a child’s weight, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children continue to use belt-positioning booster seats until they are 4’9" and the seat belt fits properly.
New legislation takes effect on October 1 that will increase the fines in Maryland for seat belt and child safety seat violations from $25 to $50. It also eliminates an exemption that formerly allowed a driver to have more child passengers in a vehicle than the number of seat belts or safety seats in the car. The new law also requires passengers 16 and older to wear a seatbelt in any seat, but not wearing a seatbelt in the back seat will be a secondary violation.
To help ensure their child is safe in a crash, AAA Mid-Atlantic urges parents to guard against these mistakes.
1. Not using a safety seat. Whether an infant, toddler or booster seat-age child, parents should always use the appropriate child restraint system every time their children are in a vehicle. Safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And, using a booster seat with a seat belt for older children instead of a seat belt alone reduces the risk of injury by 59 percent. In Maryland, it’s the law for children under 8 to ride in a booster seat or other appropriate child safety seat unless the child 4 feet, 9 inches or taller.
2. Not reading safety seat instructions. Three out of four child safety seats are installed incorrectly according to NHTSA. With thousands of combinations of child safety seats and vehicle belt systems, it’s important for parents to read both the vehicle owner’s manual and the child safety seat instructions before installing a seat to ensure it’s done properly.
3. Using restraints for older children too soon. Whether it’s turning an infant forward-facing or progressing into an adult seat belt, parents frequently advance their children into the stage of safety restraints too soon. Infants should remain rear-facing until they reach the upper weight limit of their rear-facing car seat—usually around 30 to 35 pounds. At an absolute minimum, children should not be turned to face forward until they are at least age 1 and 20 pounds. All children under age 13 should be placed in the back seat.
4. Installing safety seats too loosely. When a child safety seat is properly installed, it should not move more than one inch in any direction. Parents should use either the vehicle’s seat belt or LATCH system to secure the safety seat—but not both, unless approved by the vehicle and car seat manufacturers. If using a seat belt, make sure it is locked to hold the seat snugly in place. Children should use a booster seat until an adult seat belt fits them properly—typically around age 8 or when the child is 4 feet 9 inches tall.
5. Adjusting seat harnesses incorrectly. Safety seat harnesses should always be snug and lie flat without twists. Harnesses should be at or below the child’s shoulders when rear-facing and at or above the shoulders when forward-facing in order to hold the child’s body upright and against the seat. The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.
6. Keeping loose items in vehicle. Any loose items in a vehicle, such as purses, laptop bags or umbrellas can become dangerous projectiles in a crash or sudden stop and cause severe injury to a child, other passengers or the driver. Make sure to secure loose items and provide children with only soft toys to play with in a vehicle.
Parents and caregivers can visit the auto club’s Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education website at www.aaa.com/foundation and click on the Child Passenger Safety link for additional information on child safety seats. Visit www.seatcheck.org or call 1-866-seatcheck to find a local child car seat inspection station.