As a certified passenger safety technician (CPST), my job is to teach parents car seat safety and installation.
Putting a car seat in your vehicle and fitting your child can be tricky! In fact, it may shock you to learn that only 20 percent of people do it correctly. Whether you are installing a car seat for the first time, or you’re a seasoned veteran, you must ensure that children are properly protected in your vehicle.
I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 car seat safety and installation errors I see on the job.
- Loose car seat installation. A car seat should be tightly installed in your vehicle so that there is less than an inch of movement side-to-side and front-to-back along the belt path. The belt path is the spot on the car seat where the seat belt or lower anchor strap goes through.
- Using LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers) in a center seating position. The center is the safest place in the car to install a car seat; however, few vehicles have lower anchors in the center position. Most vehicles and car seats do not allow you to use the two inner LATCH anchors from the sideboard seating positions. Check your manuals – you most likely will have to use the seat belt on the center.
- Seat belt not locked. Check your vehicle manual to find out how your seat belts lock. Gently pull on the belt to test and make sure it is locked. You can sometimes pull the belt out all the way to switch the belt to a locked mode. Other times, the latch plate or buckle has a built-in locking mechanism. Ask a certified passenger safety technician for help in identifying how to lock your seat belts if you are unsure.
- Using LATCH and a seat belt together. Use one or the other, not both at the same time. We suggest trying the install both ways, and choosing the type of installation that allows for the most secure fit and one you can do correctly every time.
- Incorrect belt path used during installation of a convertible seat. You must use the belt path designated for the type of installation that you are doing. Typically, the rear-facing belt path runs under the child’s bottom/legs and the forward-facing belt path runs behind their back.
- Not using the top tether anchor for a forward facing seat. The top tether MUST be used when a seat is installed in the forward-facing position.
- Harness too high or too low. Straps should be at or below the child’s shoulders for rear-facing and at or above the child’s shoulders for forward-facing.
- Harness too loose. Harnesses should fit snugly. Pinch the harness strap up and down around the shoulders of your child. Your fingers should not be able to grab any of the material. If you can pinch any of the harness straps, the harness isn’t tight enough.
- Chest clip too low. The chest clip should always be at your child’s armpit level.
- Use of aftermarket products. There is a large amount of these on the market, such as head/body pillows, strap covers, hanging handle bar toys, car seat mats, mirrors, suction cup window shades, bundle me’s, custom car seat covers, and more. If it did not come with your car seat, it’s most likely not safe, and can even void your warranty. As always, refer to your car seat manual for specifics.
Amanda Biggs is the Child Passenger Safety Specialist at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital/University of Vermont Medical Center. Call 802-847-1215 with car seat questions and to schedule free car seat inspection!