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Five Key Mistakes Parents Make With Car Seats

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital injury prevention experts encourage parents and caregivers to complete an at-home car seat checkup

Tampa, Fla. (Sept. 19, 2012) – Parents are making five critical, but fixable, mistakes when using car seats, according to a new survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The research also indicates that 73 percent of child safety seats are used incorrectly, and previous studies have shown that figure to be as high as 93 percent in Hillsborough County.

Despite numerous campaigns to promote the use of child safety seats, and despite child occupant protection laws, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for children age 1 to 13. Child safety seats, when correctly installed and used, are extremely effective in saving children’s lives, reducing the risk of death by as much as 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers.

According to NHTSA, the following are the five most significant and commonly observed mistakes made by parents and caregivers when using and installing car seats and booster seats: 

  • Wrong harness slot used - The harness straps used to hold the child in the car seat are positioned either too low or too high. 
  • Harness chest clip positioned over the abdomen rather than the chest or not used at all. 
  • Loose car seat installation - The restraint system moved more than two inches side-to-side or front to back; anything more than one inch is too much. 
  • Loose harness - More than two inches of total slack between the child and the harness strap; there should be no slack. 
  • Seat belt placement was wrong – Lap belt resting over the stomach and/or shoulder belt on the child’s neck or face.

One question child passenger safety experts at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital hear most is, "Which car seat is the best?" According to St. Joseph’s Children’s Advocate Tonya Randolph, the answer isn't a specific brand or model, but rather the one that fits the child, fits the vehicle and is used correctly every time.

“Engineers are working hard to ensure cars and car seats are designed to keep kids as safe as possible, but it’s up to parents to take full advantage of these innovations by making sure car seats are used and installed correctly,” said Randolph.

In addition to reading the vehicle and car seat instruction manuals, Randolph urges parents to take the time to do the following 15-minute at-home annual checkup.

“Children visit the doctor every year for an annual checkup, and we recommend that parents give their car seats an annual checkup, too,” Randolph notes. “A quick home checkup could save a life.”

Car Seat Checkup Checklist: 

  • Right Seat. Check the label on your car seat to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height. 
  • Right Place. Kids are VIPs, just ask them. We know all VIPs ride in the back seat, so keep all children in the back seat until they are 13. Doing this, along with correctly using the appropriate child restraints, greatly reduces the risk of injury. 
  • Right Direction. You want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. When he or she outgrows the seat, move your child to a forward-facing car seat. Make sure to attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.
  • Inch Test. Once your car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the base. Can you move it more than an inch side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch. 
  • Pinch Test. Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.

Each year, Child Advocates at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital inspect more than 1,200 child safety seats at various locations throughout Hillsborough County. To find out more about child passenger safety seats or to schedule an appointment to have your seat inspected, please call (813) 443-2046.

 [Editor’s Note: Media interested in speaking to one of our Child Advocates about car seat safety, please call Amy Gall at (813) 870-4731.]



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