With summer fast approaching, many of us will start getting ready to take family road trips. If your plans include traveling with small children, you’ll probably be using car seats, so I wanted to share some car seat safety tips and information.
I was able to interview Sarah Tilton, a Child Passenger Safety Advocacy Manger representing Britax in the western hemisphere. Sarah is an active CPS Technician (2002) and Instructor (2004), as well as participating in child passenger safety activities at a local, state and national level. Here’s our interview, packed full of car seat safety tips and information to help you avoid common car seat mistakes and keep your children safe while driving.
1. What are a few of the most common car seat misuses?
- Forward-facing too soon
- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 75 percent of parents and caregivers transition their child to a forward-facing car seat much earlier than advised.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics and Britax recommend children should travel rear-facing for as long as possible—ideally until they are at least 2 years old and their developing neck muscles have grown stronger.
- Rear-facing seats protect the neck and head by distributing the force of a frontal collision along the back of the seat.
- Loose harness straps
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that nearly 60 percent of child harnesses were too loose.
- Loose harness straps leave your child vulnerable to injury during a crash because they may allow your child to move out of proper position. They can even lead to ejection from the car seat during a crash.
- A perfect harness sits comfortably in a straight line without sagging and doesn’t allow any slack.
- To determine if your child’s harness is snug enough, perform the simple “Pinch Test”:
- Secure your child in the car seat, buckle the harness, and tighten the harness by pulling on the harness adjuster strap.
- Then, using your thumb and pointer finger, try to pinch one of the harness straps at your child’s collar bone level.
- You should not be able to pinch any excess harness webbing. If you’re able to pinch the strap, the harness is too loose.
- Not knowing the lower anchor weight capacity
- Many caregivers don’t know that if you’re using the lower anchor tethers (LATCH system) of a car seat, the maximum weight capacity is 65 pounds – that includes the weight of the child PLUS the weight of the car seat, together.
- When the weight of child plus car seat reaches 65 pounds, you must use the seat belt – not LATCH – to install the car seat.
- Improper car seat installation
- We get into that in more detail next.
- See additional common car seat misuses and solutions at the Britax Learning Center.
- It is important to follow the user manuals from both the child car seat manufacturer and the vehicle manufacturer in order to achieve a proper installation.
- The safest place for your child in any vehicle is in the back seat. The center of the rear seat is preferable to outboard (window) positions — as long as you can achieve a tight installation — because it is the farthest from a side impact. Research has shown that children under the age of 3 have a 43 percent lower risk of injury when restrained in the center of the rear seat compared with the rear outboard positions. However, keep in mind that if you’re not able to install your car seat in the center position, a properly installed car seat in an outboard position will still provide excellent protection for your child during a crash.
- Tips to avoid loose car seat installation:
- After installation, grasp the seat near the belt path to check for excessive movement, which is movement of more than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back at the belt path.
- If you have trouble installing your car seat securely, try the following:
- Install the car seat in another seating position in your vehicle. For example, if you can’t install it securely in the rear center seat, try an outboard position.
- Install the car seat using another installation method. For example, if you’re not able to get a secure installation using the LATCH system, try to install with the vehicle seat belt and tether.
- The process of seating and removing your child along with the motion from your vehicle moving can shake your child seat loose over time. This makes it critical to check the fit often and reinstall your child seat periodically.
- Use a car seat that makes installation as simple as buckling a seat belt. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three out of every four car seats are installed incorrectly. To address this concerning fact, the new ClickTight installation technology in Britax convertible car seats gives any caretaker – mom, dad, grandma, babysitter – the confidence to correctly and securely install these seats in just a few easy steps.
- Using a technology like ClickTight, which uses seat belts for installation, also eliminates any parental worry about the 65-pound LATCH capacity and when to switch a growing child away from it.
- I encourage all parents and caregivers to have their car seat installations checked by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. To have your car seat installation checked, visit www.safekids.org to find an inspection station near you.
3. Child passenger safety laws vary from state to state, if traveling on a road trip and crossing state lines, do you need to be compliant in every state? What is the best way to discover the child passenger safety laws in a state?
- Yes, you have to comply with laws in every state you visit – even if you’re just driving through it. The best way to discover the child passenger safety laws in a state is to visit the Governors Highway Safety Association.
- Notable laws:
- Florida just passed a new law that requires children under 6 years old to be restrained in a car seat or booster seat
- Some states, like Tennessee and North Carolina, require children to be in a car seat until 8 years of age.
- If remembering all of these new laws becomes overwhelming, be sure to follow best practices and safety precautions as advised by your car seat and vehicle manufacturer.
4. Are there any accessories that are safe to use to help make car seat travel more comfortable for children, especially if they’ll be napping in the car (i.e. head pillows, sun shades, etc.)?
- If you plan on bringing toys and accessories to keep your child entertained, I always recommend use of soft toys and cloth books, as any unrestrained objects can become projectiles in the event of a crash or accident.
- Parents should only use car seat manufacturer-approved accessories that have been crash-tested to work with their seats. Britax offers many manufacturer-approved accessories to help children feel more comfortable during road trips including:
- Head and Body Support Pillow, made with plush fleece and moisture-control fabric to offer all-season temperature control
- EZ-Cling Window Shades, which keep children cool and shielded from UV rays and sun glare
- EZ-Buckle Belly Pad, which provides additional padding between the car seat buckle and the child, protecting the child from hot buckles during warm months.
5. Any final advice for helping create a safe and comfortable travel environment for children during road trip vacations?
- If traveling with a partner or friend, take turns sitting in the back seat with your child.
- Allow your passenger to handle the GPS and stereo so you can concentrate on driving.
- Avoid distractions while driving. For instance, leave your cell phones in your bag or pocket, or employ the use of hands-free devices, or pull over to make calls.
- If you’re traveling by plane, we recommend you take your car seats for a couple of reasons:
- The safest place for a child under 40 pounds is in a car seat or booster seat, not a lap.
- If you’re renting a car once you reach your destination, you will feel more at ease knowing your child is properly fitted and safe in his or her own car seat.
- Companies like Britax make travel carts and travel bags to make car seat transportation easy.
- If you are unsure if your car seat is FAA-approved, look for a label on the side of the seat that states, “This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” or, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
- If you have additional questions, please see Car Seats 101 page in the Britax Learning Center.
- Always remember, you’re traveling with precious cargo!
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing some great car seat safety information and tips to us keep our kids safe as we head out on our road trip adventures! Be sure to check out these tips if you’re using Lyft or Uber while traveling with kids.
Sarah Tilton is also a member of the NC Child Passenger Safety Training Committee, the National Child Passenger Safety Board representing the At Large population and the Chair of the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety. Sarah serves on the new product development, technical writing and marketing teams at Britax. In addition, she managed and developed the training curriculum for the Britax Consumer Services department and organized and implemented a permanent checking station at Britax during more than 12 years with the company. Sarah is active with the Safe Kids South Carolina, Safe Kids York County (SC), Safe Kids North Carolina, and Charlotte Mecklenburg (NC) coalitions.