Have you seen this story about a 2 year-old that survived a terrible car accident because her car seat was properly installed? It’s an astounding reminder that correct car seat usage and installation is a life and death matter!

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 50% of car seats are installed or used improperly, including convertible car seats.  This is an especially concerning stat because car accidents are the leading cause of death among children between the ages of 2 to 14.

Car seats are notoriously difficult to install correctly, but there is good news:

There are experts in car seat safety!

Find a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) in your area. Who knew there was such a thing? I didn’t until I moved to a new town and became friends with a woman who was CPST certified. Go to this website to find someone near you.

Additionally, this website will help you find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station to get yours inspected.

Safety concerns don’t end with proper installation; also make sure you are using it correctly.

Is it tight enough?

I remember when we left the hospital with our newborn and the nurse had strapped her in so tightly I thought she would suffocate.  She assured me my daughter was fine and explained that there shouldn’t be any slack—you shouldn’t be able to pinch the straps together.  She also indicated that the chest buckle should be even with her armpits.

Which direction is your child facing?

Keep your child rear facing until age 2 or as long as possible. Our daughter is 3½ and she is still rear facing. I know this sounds extreme and somewhat inconvenient, but the weight limit for our convertible car seat for rear facing is 40 pounds. Her legs are getting longer and they are folded up against the back of the seat, but she truly doesn’t seem to mind.

I’m much more concerned about her neck and spine in an accident than I am about her legs being a little scrunched. Here is a heart-wrenching story about the difference a rear facing car seat can make.

Is your child’s coat too bulky?

Now that we are deeply entrenched in winter weather, another common mistake is to have your child bundled up in their warmest winter coat. If you live in a cold climate, it seems logical to bundle kids up like the Michelin Man, but the problem arises when you buckle your child into his or her car seat with the coat on.

This video shows that kids aren’t strapped in tightly enough when wearing bulky coats. It’s vital that we find other ways to keep our children warm in the car.

If your child is in an infant carrier, simply dress them in normal clothes, secure them tightly in their car seat and stretch a cover, like this one, over the top before going outside. If it was particularly cold, I often put a hat on my daughter’s little head and tucked a blanket inside the cover (not interfering with the straps, of course).

Older children can be covered with their coat or blanket once they are safely secured in their car seat.

As your child grows, here is a useful website to help you ensure that you have the right car seat for each stage.

My friend Jill, a certified CPST says,

“Riding in a car is one of the most dangerous things our kids can do on a regular basis, so let’s do what we can to make it as safe as possible.”

I know this might be an overwhelming amount of information to take in, but children are precious cargo and they deserve our thorough pursuit of their protection.

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Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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