Crucial Car Seat Safety Tips for Your Baby or Child

Twin Car Seats
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Stephen Simpson

Did you know that as many as three out of four car seats aren’t installed correctly? 

It’s a startling fact. But thankfully, it’s easy to get it right with a bit of caution. Installing your car seat properly, and following these safety tips, can greatly lower the risk of injuries to your baby or child. 

Before You Buy a Car Seat

Do your research. In addition to figuring out the right size car seat for your child, and how much you can afford to spend, there are two safety features you need to be on the lookout for. First and foremost, make sure the car seat make and model hasn’t been recalled. Second, make sure the car seat manufacturers meet federal standards. 

Avoid buying used. Just like a bike helmet or other safety tech, it’s a good idea to avoid buying used if you can help it. Whether the car seat has been in a severe crash or a minor accident, it could have sustained damage that makes it unsafe to use, even without any visible signs of wear and tear. At a minimum, make sure you purchase a car seat that is no more than 6 years old and clearly depicts the date of manufacture as well as the model number.

Once You’ve Purchased a Car Seat

Read all of the instructions carefully. Review carefully your car owner’s manual and the car seat manufacturer’s instructions before you begin installation.

Properly install the car seat–in the back seat. It’s critically important that you put the car seat in the back seat, preferably facing the rear. If the airbags deflate, the brunt of their force will deploy right where an adult’s chest–or a first-row child in a car seat’s head–is. This could cause serious injury or even death. If you must install your car seat in the first row, deactivate the airbag in that seat.

The center is the best. If possible, install the car seat in the center back seat rather than in one of the side seats by the door. This reduces the risk of impact in the event of a crash.

Leave no wiggle room. When properly installed, the car seat should move no more than an inch when you try to wiggle it side to side or front to back. Your baby or child should also fit snugly in the seat itself and against the straps: remove coats and jackets in order to find a secure fit.

Get a professional tech check. Properly installing a car seat is tricky if you’ve never done it before. Thankfully, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Kids Worldwide both offer checkups to help you get it right.

Mind the armpits. In an infant or convertible car seat, the harness straps should lay flat across the hips and chest, and the chest clip should be level with your child’s armpits. 

Make sure to recline. Your baby must be reclined at the angle specified in the car seat instructions in order to breathe properly and to keep their head and neck from flopping. As your baby grows, you’ll likely need to adjust this angle, so pay particular attention to the instructions.

Make DIY adjustments. If your baby’s head or neck doesn’t have enough support, or if there’s a gap between the crotch strap and his or her hips, you can roll small washcloths or baby blankets and tuck them in between for a secure fit.

Face the rear as long as possible. The safest way for a baby or child in a car seat to ride is facing the rear, period. You should keep your baby or child facing the rear until they hit the weight or height limit in a convertible seat. Once you’re ready to make the switch, see if your car seat uses the seat belt or has its own Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, and carefully follow the instructions. 

...And stick to a car seat as long as possible. Until your child weighs 80 pounds or is too tall for your specific car seat, they should be in a car seat. Only then should you transition to a booster seat, which is essential to help the seat belt fit in a safe manner.

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