The national misuse rate for children’s car seats is an astounding 80 percent; the rate in Vermont is slightly higher at 84 percent.
the UVM Medical Center now offers a way to help parents correctly use car seats to keep their children safe. Our child car seat safety program is where parents can work with nationally certified technicians to learn how to use a new seat, or get help with an existing seat or problem.
We separate car seat misuse into three categories: installation, harnessing, and selection. Let’s look at how each affects your child’s safety – and how you can make the changes necessary to keep your child safe.
Installation misuse deals with how the car seat is attached to the car. Installation is our number one misuse category. It’s hard to put car seats in correctly. There are different rules for each seat, which, if you haven’t read the manual thoroughly AND had practice in putting seats in, can be very challenging.
When we look at car seats as technicians, we ask ourselves these questions:
- Is the car seat in the correct recline position for its direction?
- Is the LATCH belt or seat belt routed properly?
- Is the belt holding the car seat tightly?
- Is the seat belt locked?
- Is LATCH used correctly
- Are you using LATCH and the seat belt together?
- Is the tether used correctly?
- Are aftermarket products in use?
Installation is important because it’s how we keep a child in the car. If a person is ejected, there’s a 25 percent greater chance of death than there would be if the child stayed inside the car. Simply put, staying in the car may help to keep a child alive in the case of an accident.
Harnessing deals with putting the child into the car seat. Again, there are rules and they sometimes change. Manuals tell you how to put the child in the seat, but they don’t give you a demonstration. Many parents need to see and do the harnessing part for themselves – it’s all about the visuals and muscle memory.
Here, we ask the following questions:
- Is the harness in use?
- Is the harness twisted?
- Is the harness in the correct slot for the seat direction?
- Is the harness threaded correctly and attached to the correct parts of the seat?
- Is the chest clip on the chest?
- Is the harness snug on the child and does it pass the pinch test?
Why is this important? Remember the old saying, “seat belts save lives”? That’s what the harness is in the car seat, the seatbelt for the child. Keep them inside the seat and they are more likely to survive a car accident with less serious injury.
Selection is the final piece: is this the right seat for this particular kid? We see lots of seats that are inappropriate for the child who is riding in them. Typically, it’s simply because the parent doesn’t know that something’s wrong with that particular seat.
So, what things do we look for here?
- Is the seat expired?
- Is the child within the manufacturer’s weight/height requirements?
- Has the seat been in a crash?
- Does the family know the history of the seat?
- Is the direction appropriate for the child?
- Is the child OK to be in the direction the parents have the seat?
- Is the seat recalled?
Ah, selection. We frequently hear: “But, I got this car seat at a rummage sale,” or “It’s been sitting in my attic unused for a decade.” Selection is important because knowing the history of the seat and whether it’s been in a crash will determine whether or not it’s safe to use. Car seats are one-use items. If it’s in an accident, it did its job; retire it. If it’s older than its expiration date, it did its job; retire it. Why, you ask? The plastic that is made from will stress during a car accident. It’s intended to do so; this is how the seat protects the child. When a car seat gets older, the plastic gets brittle and will shatter, which leads to the possibility of the child being ejected from the seat in the event of a crash.
Do you need help with your child’s car seat? Not sure how to fix it? Come on down to the fitting station at the UVM Medical Center and let us help. You’ll receive personalized instruction and hands-on experience. Please call 802-847-2278 to schedule an appointment.
Ann Weinstein is a Child Passenger Safety Specialist at the Office of Community Health Improvement at the UVM Medical Center.