Get the Right Fit for Your Car Seat
Driving home from the hospital with your newborn can be downright nerve-wracking. How can you protect a tiny infant, often buckled into in a car seat that may appear too large, in the event of a car accident? The first step is purchasing a proper car seat for your child and then correctly installing it in your vehicle.
Motor vehicle crashes in the United States accounted for 127,250 injuries to children ages 12 and younger in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but some can be prevented:
- Using car seats in passenger vehicles can reduce the risk of fatal injuries to to infants (up to age 1) by 71 percent, and to toddlers (ages 1-4) by 54 percent, According to the CDC.
- While looking at safety ratings for leading car seat brands can’t hurt, the most important thing is that you purchase the correct seat for your child’s height and weight and that it is installed properly, says Ryan Hawker, director of car seat product management for Dorel Juvenile, the world’s largest car seat manufacturer.
- “Eighty percent of car seats are installed improperly,” Hawker says. “It doesn’t matter which [brands] you choose to buy. What’s most important is that you’re going to use it right, it’s going to fit your kid and it’s going to fit your car.”
We sat down with Hawker to discuss proper car seat use and installation.
Q: What’s the most important thing new parents should consider when they are looking at car seats?
A: What they should first ask themselves is, what is the right seat for their needs? There are generally two options when buying a seat for a newborn baby: an infant carrier (the kind you lift up with a handle, which clicks into a base and a stroller) or a convertible seat, which remains stationed in the car.
Most people use an infant car seat carrier with a small baby. And you have to make sure, with that kind of car seat, which is used rear-facing, that the shoulder straps are always at, or just below, the shoulder. So for very, very small babies, sometimes they might be just above the shoulder and it’s better to look for a car seat that really gets the fit correctly.
You should be able to make sure that you are always able to pull the harness tight enough so there’s no excess material. You can check for that: They call it the pinch test. Basically, with your thumb and your index finger you try to pinch the webbing on the shoulder where it lies on the baby, and if you can gather material on your thumb and index finger, that’s considered loose. You should be able to tighten it more. If you can’t tighten it more, you should consider a different car seat. For additional details and criteria for fit, you may want to read your instruction manual.
Q: What steps should buyers take when shopping for car seats?
A: You can go to the different stores and try the car seat with your child in it to make sure that it’s fitting them correctly. The car seats are not attached to the shelf. You can actually take them down, look at them, and explore them, try to adjust them. Try to pull the harness tight. Make sure that you’re going to be able to use it correctly. Also maybe start to explore how you’re going to install the car seat.
The most important things to consider with car seats are: Are you going to use it correctly? Is it going to fit your child correctly? Is it going to fit your car correctly? If you’re not using it correctly for any reason, then it’s probably not the right choice.
Q: What are the different ways car seats can be positioned, depending on age and weight?
A: There are three major uses for a car seat: rear-facing, forward-facing (using the internal harness for either one of those) and booster mode. In booster mode, you’re not using an internal harness, but you’re using the actual vehicle belt coming across the body of the child.
To check which seat would be best for your child’s age and height, visit Safercar.gov and check the car seat recommendations.
Q: Car seat laws have become increasingly tough, with lawmakers in several states increasing the age requirement for children to be rear-facing. Can you expand on that?
A: It used to be that the American Academy of Pediatrics (the AAP) would make a recommendation and say, you have to be at least 1 year old or 20 pounds before you go forward-facing. They changed that a few years ago, so now [the recommendation is that] you have to be at least 2. The best practice is at least 2, but really, it’s important to stay rear-facing as long as you can and as long as your car seat allows you, in terms of the car seat’s weight and height requirements. The American Academy of Pediatrics did a study years ago and found that children are five times safer if they’re rear-facing up to age 2.
Hawker notes that there are child passenger safety technicians available around the country and advises parents to go to safekids.org, where they can use a car seat checkpoint finder to seek assistance.