As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure our children are safe in the car. Unfortunately upwards of 80% of carseats are not installed correctly. Combine that with these common usage mistakes and the percentage of kids not properly protected climbs even higher.
Not using the proper seat for your child's age and weight.
• Rear Face until MINIMUM of 1 year, preferably up to age 2 and beyond.
• Forward facing in a 5 point harness carseat until at least age 6. Most kids under 6 do not have the maturity to sit properly a booster seat. If your child is prone to wriggling around, or even falling asleep in the vehicle, keep them harnessed - I occasionally still have to remind DD who is 8 to sit properly.
• Keep them in a booster seat until they can pass the 5-step test, regardless of age.
The 5 Step Test:
1. Can the child sit all the way back against the seat of the vehicle?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs, not laying across the abdomen?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your child needs still needs a booster seat regardless of their age! If they do not pass this test, the seat belt is not properly positioned to protect them in the event of a crash. Serious injury or death may occur.
Not using the seats for EVERY trip, regardless of length. Most accidents happen close to home, the only way to keep your children safe is to use the seat EVERY time you are in the car, whether it is a 10 hour drive, or just around the corner.
Harness straps not tight enough. You should not be able to pinch excess strap vertically, or be able to put more than 2 fingers under the strap. If you live in a cold climate, unzip your childs jacket, fasten the harness straps and tighten, then re-zip the jacket OVER his or her straps. This ensures the bulk of the coat won't create excess slack in the harness. Harness straps that aren't tight enough will not protect a child in a collision.
Allowing the straps to twist excessively. If you've wound up with a carseat the has the dreaded "twisty strap syndrome" take a few seconds EVERY time you buckle your child in to smooth out the straps and remove any twists. Failure to do so can result in straps that twist into thin "ropes" which can cut into a child and cause injury in a collision. I've found that by straightening the straps each and every time I buckle the kids in, I avoid having to remove the seat to untwist the straps.
Improper harness or chest clip position.
Rear Facing the harness should be at or BELOW the child's shoulders.
Forward Facing the harness height should be at or ABOVE the child's shoulders.
Both forward facing and rear facing the chest clip should be level with the child's armpits.
Using old expired or second hand carseats.
Most carseats have a usuable life of 6 years, some are 7 or 8 years. All new seats have a sticker on the back of the seat with and expiry date on it. The plastic in the carseat degrades over time regardless of use. After the expiry date, the seat may not withstand the force of a collision, resulting in injury or death.
Second hand carseats pose a risk because you do not know the history of the seats. Carseats that have been in a collision may have microscopic cracks in the plastic shell preventing it from properly protecting a child in the event of the collision. Bottom line is only use a second hand seat if it is not past the expiry date and you know and trust the people you are getting it from.
Next time you buckle your kids into their seat, take a moment to check their seats and make sure you're not making one of these common mistakes and inadvertently putting your children at risk.