It’s been more than three decades since the use of child safety seats became law in the United States, and yet almost 60% of the time, child car seats are used incorrectly, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 1

Common mistakes include: Using a used car seat that has been recalled or has missing parts; placing the car seat in the wrong location in the car; incorrect installation or buckling; reclining your child at the incorrect angle and moving to a forward-facing car seat too soon. These mistakes can be fatal.

Properly installed child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for those younger than a year old and by 54 percent for toddlers ages one to four years.2 The NHTSA also reports that while most parents believe they are using child safety seats correctly, as many as 46 percent have in fact installed them incorrectly.2

Steps to proper installation

So, what can you do to make sure you are using your car seat correctly? In addition to choosing a seat that properly fits your vehicle and carefully reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions, consider the following tips for proper car seat installation:

  • Check the label on your car seat to make sure it is age- and size-appropriate for your child.
  • Always place a car seat in the back of a vehicle. Children should remain in the back seat until age 13.
  • Keep children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible – ideally beyond age one - before moving them to a forward-facing seat.
  • Once you have installed the car seat, give it a shake from its base. A properly installed car seat shouldn’t move more than one inch in any direction.
  • After placing the harness around your child, make sure that it is tight and that the straps are coming through the proper slots. The harness is tight enough and the chest clip properly placed if you cannot pinch any extra webbing at your child’s shoulder.

For added assurance, parents can discuss and examine their installation with a certified technician at a car seat inspection station. In most communities, the police are available to inspect or help you install your car seat. Host stations will also periodically pop up at places such as car dealerships, store parking lots or municipal festivals.

Moving beyond the car seat

Once kids grow out of a car seat or booster, a properly fitting seat belt is the key to keeping them safe while in the car. Although they’re smaller than an adult, a child’s seat belt should still rest on their upper thighs and chest, not the belly and neck. It is recommended that children remain in a booster seat from until they reach a height of 57 inches. For older children and adults, of course, the use of a seat belt cuts the risk of serious injury in half.

In the case of motor vehicle accidents, an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure.

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