Although parents take so much trouble to choose a high quality baby car seat to carry their precious bundle of joy in the car, one of the saddest aspects of child safety on the roads is that in most cases they do not fit the seat correctly. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) almost 80% of child safety seats are badly fitted or misused.
The most common errors are harness straps that were loose and safety belt attachments that are incorrectly fastened. These mistakes are defined by the NHTSA as ‘critical’ because there is a possibility of serious injury in the event of an accident. So most baby safety seats are not nearly as safe as parents think, and many babies are at risk.
How then can you be sure that your baby will be safe in the car?
First, make sure that you are using the right type of seat for your baby’s age and weight, and that it is facing the right way. Some multi-purpose seats can be fitted to face either forward or backward and the fitting will change as your child grows. Babies under one year old and under 20 lb in weight should have rear-facing seats. But note that all child safety seats, whether forward or backward facing, should be fitted on the back seat of the car.
It is also possible to buy infant seats for young babies. These are designed to be rear-facing only, so you will need a new seat when your child gets bigger. However, they will be a better fit for your newborn baby and they are easier to store and carry, being smaller. You can carry your sleeping baby around in his or her safety seat.
If you prefer, you can buy a convertible seat that can be adapted to fit babies and toddlers. Convertible seats are larger and heavier and you are more likely to leave them in the car all of the time. They must be fitted in the rear facing position for young babies and then when the child turns one or weighs over 20 lb, the seat can be turned around to face the front. A convertible seat will usually hold children up to 40 lb.
But whatever type of seat you select, the most important point is to fit it correctly. You must read both the instructions that come with the car seat and the owner’s manual for your car. First, make sure that you have the seat firmly and correctly buckled into the car. Then make sure you know how to fit and secure the harness straps that hold your baby inside the seat.
Don’t guess – have your baby’s seat checked by a qualified technician if you are not 100% sure that you have it correct. US visitors can go to http://www.seatcheck.org to find a child safety seat inspection center near you.
If you are considering buying a used seat or accepting one as a gift, consider the age and condition of the seat. Seats that have been used by several children in a family, or seats that have been in an accident, may be worn or broken and not safe for a baby any more. The label should tell you the date of manufacture and you should not use a seat that is more than five years old. Make sure that you have the manufacturer’s instructions and that all the parts are included. If the instructions have been lost, you may be able to find a copy online, but make sure you have the right manual for your exact safety seat. If not, do not use the seat, even if it was a gift. It is not worth taking the chance.
Above all remember that in an accident, your child’s life depends on the baby car seat.