Car Seat Safety Basics
How do you know if you are using the car seat correctly?
Straps: For a 5 point harness, the straps should be sitting at or below the child’s shoulders for rear facing and at or above the child’s shoulders for forward facing.
Ensure the chest clip is positioned over the child’s sternum (usually around armpit or nipple level)
Are my car seat straps tight enough?
This now checked with a pinch test. To do this test, pinch the straps vertically at the collar bone. If you can grab excess slack between your fingers and pinch it, then the straps are too loose. (This used to be a finger test but since everyone’s fingers are different sizes this is more universal)
Car Seat Safety starts at Installation
Check that your seat is installed tightly. Your car seat should be installed so that there is less than 1″ movement side to side, and front to back when grasping at the belt path. That means where the seat belt or lower anchor connector strap feeds through the car seat. That is the only place you need to test for movement, not the top of the car seat.
For forward facing- A tether should always be used with a forward facing seat. The tether reduces forward movement for the child’s head and neck up to 6″ in a crash; so reconfigure seats if necessary so all forward facing kids are in a vehicle seat with a tether anchor.
Clothes that Impact Car Seat Safety
Remove all bulky clothing- Bulky coats put extra space between the child and the harness which will compress immediately in a crash and mean more distance the child’s body moves before coming to a stop. Remove coats before buckling up, they can be worn backwards over the harness, or use blankets (like a cozy lifesafer mat) in the car instead. There are also car seat ponchos and approved car seat coats you can purchase. The coats have a thin back on them so you unsnap and open them but leave them on, do up the car seat harness, then you can cover child with the front of the coat if cold.
Are cloth diapers safe in the car? Does the extra bulk from cloth diapers impact car seat safety? No but ski pants or full one piece snow suits do. Diapers are bulky but not fluffy like the coats so they don't compress like a coat in a collision.
Extra Tips for Car Seat Safety:
Is your child in the right stage for their age?
Kids should ride rear facing until a minimum of age 2, ideally 3-4 years old; forward facing in a 5 point harness until 5+ years old, and in a booster seat until 10-12 years old. Always check your seat weight and height limits as well.
Once old enough to transition out of a booster seat, there is a 5 point test to try:
1 – Shoulder belt crosses between the neck and shoulder.
2 – Lower back is against the vehicle seat.
3 – Lap belt stays on the upper thighs across the hip bones.
4 – The knees bend at the end of the seat.
5 – The child can ride like this for the entire ride.
Have you checked the date?
Car seats expire anywhere from 4-12 years from the time they were manufactured. This time frame varies depending on the manufacturer, but plastics break down over time and an expired car seat may not protect your child adequately in a crash.
About the Author
Catherine is a single mom of 3, a social worker, health and wellness coach, full spectrum doula, breastfeeding counselor, and certified car seat tech who recently became a full time student.