Tips for Using Car Seats Safely

Image via Unsplash by sharonmccutcheon

Installing and using a child’s car seat might seem straightforward, but you would be surprised how often car seat checkup events can prove otherwise. Maryland’s current child seat misuse rate is 60% and includes factors such as the wrong car seat for the child’s age, weight, or height; incorrect installation; harness problems; or damage to the car seat. The car seat could also have expired or been recalled.

These types of mistakes can compromise a car seat’s effectiveness. After all, a car seat is your child’s primary defense against injury. When used correctly, a car seat can be highly effective. Review the tips below to help ensure safer travels for your child.

Practice Safe Harnessing

In an emergency, the straps on the car seat will hold your child in place, keeping your child from being thrown around inside or ejected from the vehicle. Follow the guidelines below to ensure you’re using the harnesses correctly.

  • Adjust the shoulder strap height so that if the car seat is rear facing, the straps sit even or wrap slightly down behind your child’s shoulders to hold your child inside the car seat shell. Think of the positioning like having a hug from above. If you cup your hand, the harness straps should cup your child’s shoulders when rear-facing. If the car seat is forward-facing, the shoulder straps need to be positioned at or above your child’s shoulders to hold your child back against the car seat shell. If you look at your seat belt, it most likely does the same thing: The seat belt sits evenly with or just above your shoulders.
  • Once your child is buckled into the car seat, give the straps the pinch test. The “pinch test” involves trying to pinch the fold of webbing at the collarbone. If you are able to pull webbing away from your child, continue to keep the straps snug until your fingers slide off the webbing and the straps lie in a flat, straight line.
  • Position the chest clip level with your child’s armpits. This chest clip is designed to keep the shoulder straps in the proper position in case of a crash.’

Apply the Lower Anchors to Install the Car Seat

Lower anchors are part of the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, one of two primary methods that can be used to install a car seat in a vehicle. To ensure correct Lower Anchor use, keep the following in mind:

  • Identify the correct lower anchor positions.
  • Tighten the lower anchor strap(s).
  • Determine if the lower anchors must be used alone or if the seat belt can be used as well.

Use the Seat Belt to Install the Car Seat

Seat belts are a tried-and-true way to install a car seat in a vehicle. Seat belts can be found in all seating positions and do not have the special consideration of lower anchors. However, they still need to hold a car seat in tightly at the belt path. To make sure you use the seat belt correctly, read the car seat installation section of the car seat manual and the vehicle manual:

  • Learn if you need to lock the seat belt at the latch plate or retractor or whether a built-in lock can clamp the seat belt to the car seat.
  • Determine if the seat belt must be used alone or if the lower anchors can be used as well.

Understand How to Use the Tether

A tether is an extra strap on the back of a car seat that can be used in a forward-facing position with a harness. It offers additional supplemental protection for older children who sit taller in the car seat by holding the top portion of the car seat back against the vehicle in addition to the primary installation method (seat belt or lower anchor). For correct tether use, read both the car seat and vehicle manuals:

  • Learn when to use the tether.
  • Ensure the tether is routed over the vehicle seat and head restraint correctly.
  • Confirm the tether anchor is the right one for this seating position.

To make sure your child is traveling as safely as possible, contact Maryland Kids in Safety Seats at 800-370-7328 or to find a car seat inspection event near your neighborhood. You can also schedule a free Video Car Seat Assistance Appointment.