I have this friend who is only a text, email, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram away. She’s a friend of course, but she’s also my own personal car seat safety expert. I send her pictures and ask her questions so I can ensure my boys are the safest they can be inside the car. I feel like car seat safety is one of those things that isn’t explained or taught well-enough. I asked Amie to write some pieces for me in the off-chance that we could help educate and spread the word about proper car seat safety.
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Hey y’all! I’m Amie. Kyley asked me a few weeks ago if I would be interested in writing a carseat safety post for her blog, so I told her of course!
I’m a 1st grade teacher in Louisiana. I’m single, no kids. So, why am I an advocate of carseat safety? I don’t have a story of anything that’s happened to me, but I do have 2 very precious Goddaughters who I love very much, and when I started toting them places in my car quite often, I decided I might as well figure out the safest way to do so. Turns out, more than 70% of carseats are installed incorrectly. My good friend Ellyn is also a Child Passenger Safety Tech, and encouraged me to find a class in my area and become certified, so I did. I’ll include information at the bottom of the post if anyone is interested in finding this out too!
So, the basics. There are several types of carseats: rear-facing only (which this post will cover), convertible (rear and forward facing), combination (forward facing with the harness, and then a booster), and then boosters (no-back and high back boosters).
Seat belt vs. LATCH?
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. In vehicles made after 2003, it’s required that there be lower anchors in at least 2 positions and tethers in at least 3 positions.
They are both safe. The one that gives you the best install is the one you’ll want to use. Just make sure you don’t use both. It’s not crash tested that way, and we don’t know how seats will behave if they are both being used.
Regardless if you’re using LATCH or seatbelts, it’s recommended to always use the top tether strap when using a FF carseat. It helps decrease how far the head moves in a crash. There are only a few RFing seats that allow the use of the tether. Read your manual.
There are different types of seatbelts in cars. Reading your car owner manual will help you figure out which kind you have. The most common type is the Automatic Locking Retractor, which means you can pull the belt all the way out, hear a “click” and then it’s locked, and as it goes back in, you’re unable to pull it out any more. When installing the carseat, you’ll buckle the belt, and then pull it out to lock it, and then tighten the belt while pushing down in the seat.
When installing a seat, regardless if it’s with seatbelt or LATCH, you want to make sure after the install is complete, that the seat doesn’t move more than 1” side to side, or front to back. You check at the “belt path”, or where the belt runs through the seat.
After-market products, or AMP, are things that you can buy to add on to a carseat that didn’t come in the box with the seat. Not only do they usually void the warranty of the seat, but they aren’t crash tested, so there’s no way of knowing if they will interfere with the way the seat behaves in a crash. So, those cute little monkey strap covers? Don’t need ‘em. There are other tricks, such as pulling their shirts up between their neck and the straps, which help with any uncomfortable-ness. Sometimes those strap covers are so long, they push the chest clip down too far. The infant body/head support you bought that was sold separately? No. Anything that goes between the child and the back of the carseat, that didn’t come with the seat, can interfere with the harness. Here’s another good post about AMPs.
Let’s start with rear-facing seats. Rear-facing, or RF as I’ll refer to it from here on out, is 5 times safer than forward facing (FF). You can’t argue with physics. In a crash, you will move towards the point of impact. So, a RFing baby will move towards the back of his carseat. Those seats are designed to spread the force of impact along the baby’s entire back, rather than stressing the neck like it would if he were FFing. In an ideal world, we would all ride RFing. Since that’s not possible for everyone, it is recommended that you keep your child RFing until at least 2 years of age.
If you are installing a RFing seat that has a stay-in base, you will install the base first, and then the bucket seat will snap on top. Make sure you check the manual of the seat you are using to see what angle your base needs to be. It’s usually indicated on the seat. Newborns need to be more reclined so their head isn’t flopping forward and obstructing their airway. Older babies who have better head control are allowed to sit more upright. If you find that you install your base and can’t get the angle correct, there are some tips and tricks that might work, such as using a tightly rolled towel under the base at the bight of the seat (where the bottom and back of the seat meet. You may also be able to use a pool noodle under the base to create more of an angle. Again, I can’t stress enough the fact that you should always read the manual. It will tell you what you are and are not allowed to do.
Here is a picture of Kyley’s Quinten in his RFing only seat.
There are several things you want to make sure of when you place your child in the seat:
- Make sure the harness straps are either at or below your child’s shoulders. In the event of a crash, the seat is designed for the back to lift off the seat and come back and touch the back of the car’s seat, creating a cocoon around the baby. Having the straps in the right position prevents the baby from sliding up to the top of the seat.
- The chest clip – see it in the above picture? It’s called a chest clip for a reason. It belongs on the chest. Its purpose is to keep the harness straps on the shoulders, but if it’s in the wrong place, can cause internal damage to the baby by being over soft tissue. You want to make sure the top of the chest clip is even with the armpits. This rule is the same for all seats. In older kids, I like to call it the “tickle clip”, and that helps them remember where it
Much better! Doesn’t he look happier now?
3. Tightness of harness straps: Adjusting the straps depends on your seat. Sometimes to tighten the straps you have to come from behind the seat, others will have the adjuster at the bottom, where their feet are. Read your owner’s manual to make sure you know how to adjust the straps. You want to adjust them and then do the pinch test. Try to pinch the straps horizontally at the shoulder. If you can pinch any slack, they’re too loose. If you can’t pinch anything, they are tight enough. Here’s a graphic I got from the Britax Facebook page that illustrates how to do the pinch test:
4. Lastly, in infant carriers, you also want to make sure you pay attention to the position of the carry handle. Usually there is a sticker on the side that shows what position the handle needs to be in the car. If there is no sticker, the information should be in the manual. This link (and great site) to Car Seats For the Littles has a great graph that shows the different seats and in what position the handle should be.
I think we’re going to break this up into a few different posts, so we don’t overwhelm anyone. 🙂 Next up, we’ll talk about Convertible and Forward Facing seats.
If you’re interested in becoming a Child Passenger Safety Tech, you can visit this site, and just enter your state.
School has started for me this year, but I will try to hang around the comments if anyone has any questions!
Thanks, Amie! This is a great post and I hope others find it helpful. I can’t wait for your next post!