Parents go to great lengths to make sure their children are safe. But when it comes to car seat safety, too frequently minor mistakes can put children at risk without parents realizing it.
To kick-off National Child Passenger Safety Week, Sept. 12-18, AAA warns parents of the six common car seat mistakes. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children; however, 244 lives of children under age 5 were saved during collisions in 2008 because they were secured in a safety seat.
To help ensure their child is safe in a crash, AAA urges parents to guard against these mistakes.
1. Not using a safety seat. Whether an infant, toddler or booster seat-age child, parents should always use the appropriate child restraint system every time their children are in a vehicle. Safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers. And, using a booster seat with a seat belt for older children instead of a seat belt alone reduces the risk of injury by 59 percent.
Any child under age 8 or a height of 4 foot 9 inches needs some kind of safety seat in addition to the vehicle's seat belt.
2. Not reading safety seat instructions. Three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly. With thousands of combinations of child safety seats and vehicle belt systems, it's important for parents to read both the vehicle owner's manual and the child safety seat instructions before installing a seat to ensure it's done properly.
3. Using restraints for older children too soon. Whether it's turning an infant forward-facing or progressing into an adult seat belt, parents frequently advance their children into the stage of safety restraints too soon. Infants should remain rear-facing until they reach the upper weight limit of their rear-facing car seat–usually around 30 to 35 pounds. At an absolute minimum, children should not be turned to face forward until they are at least age 1 and 20 pounds. All children under age 13 should be placed in the back seat.
4. Installing safety seats too loosely. When a child safety seat is properly installed, it should not move more than one inch in any direction. Parents should use either the vehicle's seat belt or LATCH system to secure the safety seat–but not both, unless approved by the vehicle and car seat manufacturers. If using a seat belt, make sure it is locked to hold the seat snugly in place and use the tether when appropriate. Children should use a booster seat until an adult seat belt fits them properly -- typically around age 8 or when the child is 4 feet 9 inches tall.
5. Adjusting seat harnesses incorrectly. Safety seat harnesses should always be snug and lie flat without twists. Harnesses should be at or below the child's shoulders when rear-facing and at or above the shoulders when forward-facing in order to hold the child's body upright and against the seat. The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.
6. Keeping loose items in vehicle. Any loose items in a vehicle, such as purses, laptop bags or umbrellas can become dangerous projectiles in a crash or sudden stop and cause severe injury to a child, other passengers or the driver. Make sure to secure loose items and provide children with only soft toys to play with in a vehicle.
AAA has a web site dedicated to helping parents understand how to properly keep their children safe inside a vehicle. Visit AAA.com/carseat for detailed information on how to select the proper safety seat for a child and where to get safety seats checked by trained professionals.