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Car accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 3-14 years old. According to NPR, 43% of those deaths may have been due to improper use of restraints.  Proper car seat use is critical to the safety of a child.  In a recent study 96% of parents believed their children were properly restrained, however 72-84% show improper use that increased the risk of injury or death to the child.  Most parents are unaware there is even a problem.  Benjamin Hoffman, MD, a certified child passenger safety technician claims to have performed more than 4,000 seat checks in his life and of those, only 13 seats were installed properly.

Here are 3 common mistakes made by parents when using car seats for their children:

  1. “Promoting” children too early:  With each step up from seat to seat your child is losing a level of protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping your baby rear facing until he or she reaches 2-years- old, however 73% of parents reported turning their child before the age of 2. Many parents also place children in booster seats too quickly, removing the protection of the 5-point harness.
  2. Improper Installation:  Many parents don’t install seats at the proper angle or tight enough. Patrick Edmunds, a father and program manager of Buckle Up for Life, a national car seat safety program from Cincinnati Children’s, says “We often see the straps attaching the car seat to the vehicle seat not being tight enough,” He suggests what he refers to as “the inch test”.  After installing the car seat, tug on the bottom base, where the car seat meets the vehicle seat.  If it moves more than one-inch front to back or side to side, the seat is not installed correctly.
  3. Improper Buckling:  Parents make several mistakes when buckling children into car seats.  The first critical error is not tightening the harness enough. Leaving too much slack between the chest clip and chest of the child can cause a child to be ejected from the seat. You can check the tightness by attempting to pinch the strap at the shoulder area.  If you’re able to pinch the material, it is too loose.  Buckling in with twisted straps will cause the harness to be too loose as well. The second mistake is leaving the chest clip too low, which should be at armpit level. Placing the chest clip too low can cause the child to be ejected from the seat and could compress and damage vital organs.  It’s important for the chest clip to have the protection of the ribcage behind it.  Finally, the third mistake is buckling your child in with too many layers.A winter coat, for example, is too bulky to provide proper car seat protection.  Children should remove these layers before buckling in. To test the safety of clothing layers, buckle your child in with the layers on, then remove the added clothing and buckle in again without altering the straps.  If you can pinch the strap material at the shoulder level, the layers are too bulky to wear safely.

For more information and to ensure your children are safely buckled into the proper car seat, please visit The American Academy of Pediatrics website for their recommendations and find a certified child passenger safety technician in your area to check your installation technique. Your child’s life may depend on it

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