As all of you know, we happily reside in the city of Atlanta. But you non-Georgians out there might not know that Atlanta is home to some of the dumbest, most distracted, and most aggressive drivers in the entire world. Yes, the world. I get massive anxiety driving anywhere in Atlanta traffic, and especially if I have to drive through the city.
Needless to say, when I was confronted with the reality that I was going to have some very precious cargo in the car after Anna was born, I wanted to make sure I could protect her as best I could, with proper car seat safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 75-80% of car seats are installed incorrectly, even as car seats become easier to install. And honestly? I believe that statistic. Amazon has a Facebook page and a few weeks ago they ran a photo contest soliciting pictures of kids in car seats, and it about damn near gave me a heart attack to look through those pictures.
So, in the spirit of protecting our kiddos, I'm going to share some of what I consider to be the lesser-known facts about car seat safety that I have run across in the last year and a half. And if you know some safety tips too that I don't mention, please share!!!
1) Never buy a secondhand car seat, especially if you don't know or trust its history. Car seats should be replaced if they are ever in an accident, and car seats also expire - generally after 5 years. Safety standards change, materials wear down, and the straps can lose their tension. Yes, car seats are expensive, but cut back ANYWHERE else that you can to get a quality, highly-ranked new car seat. Once you purchase your car seat, make sure to register the seat with the manufacturer so you can receive information about recalls or defects.
2) Check your vehicle's owner manual to see their recommendations on which back seat is the safest for car seats. Once you've purchased your car seat and gotten it installed, take it to be inspected. Here in Atlanta, the local fire department has licensed car seat technicians that will perform a FREE inspection check to ensure that you've installed it correctly for your vehicle. Steve followed the car seat's manual to a tee and the technician still had a few pointers for us on how to get the seat installed even more safely, given our vehicle. If you switch back and forth between 2 vehicles (like we do), seriously consider purchasing an additional seat so that you don't risk re-installing it incorrectly. You can find inspection stations in your area at this website - http://www.seatcheck.org/.
3) The new recommendation is for kids to be rear-facing in their car seats until the age of 2, or to the height or weight limits of the car seat. Once your car seat is facing forward, the child loses the support of the back of the seat and all of the force of the impact is on the child's neck, which can lead to serious injuries including internal decapitation. Speaking of weight limits, we also learned from our car seat tech that the LATCH systems on cars also have a weight limit, usually around 40 pounds. Once your kiddo reaches the weight limit for the LATCH system on your car, you're going to need to use the seat belt to install the car seat instead of the LATCH anchors.
4) Straps should be very snug (to where you can barely fit a finger underneath them) and the chest clip should be on level with the child's armpits. You should remove bulky clothing like jackets or coats that could cause too much of a cushion between the straps and your child. Make sure the straps aren't twisted, too!
5) If you have grandparents, nannies, or day care providers that will drive your child in their car, make sure that their car seat is also properly installed and that they know how to adjust and buckle the straps.
Here are some great internet resources if you want to read more!