That changed in a hurry when their Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians started walking us through the different types of seats, installation requirements in vehicles and the dozens of variables that you can encounter. With National Car Seat Safety Week kicking off on September 18th, it’s great to go over those things that seem to be the “basics” of kids and car seats, as well as a few things I learned that I think might be helpful to you:
The Basics of Car Seat Safety
- While regulations are different state to state, the NTSB mandate for children in a car / booster seat is 4’9″. Illinois regulations require children to be in a seat until they are 8 AND 80 pounds, which is why my just-turned-9-year-old is still in a booster. She doesn’t meet the weight requirements.
- Children should ride in the backseat until the age of 12.
- Infants and small children should be in a rear-facing car sear until the age of 2.
- Car seats should not move more than an inch side to side
The Details You Need To Know about Car Seat Safety
- Your owner’s manual should have detailed information on how to install a car seat properly for your vehicle type. Did you read your manual before you installed your car seat?? (I know I didn’t!)
- Most car seats will require you to remove the head rest in the back seat to be installed properly
- LATCH systems are required in all cars past 2001. You can buy the LATCH systems to retrofit your vehicle if it is older.
- Did you know the purpose of the third “hook” in the back of your car seat? I always thought that was the thing that you only used when you WEREN’T using the LATCH system and were using seat belts. I had ZERO idea that is a tether system that is an additional safety strap in addition to the two straps that attach to the LATCH system. Tethers are mandated in all vehicles (except convertibles) so read your owner’s manual to insure that you are attaching your tether hooks to the correct anchor and not using a cargo hook instead. (Someone tell me I’m not the only person who didn’t know about this? I had police departments install car seats and never had a tether hooked in my car!!)
- LATCH is only rated for 65 pounds TOTAL which includes the weight of your car seat. Know how heavy your car seat is. Car seat + weight of your child must not exceed 65 pounds or it will not properly protect your child.
- Seat belts have TWO modes – emergency locking mode and switchable. This allows the seat belt to “lock” the car seat in to place at the right tension so it doesn’t slide all over the place; thus keeping the car seat still strapped securely to the car. If you’re a family that switches car seats from one car to another on a regular basis, using the seat belt route might be the better option for you. Take a look at your owner’s manual, determine what kind of seat belt system your vehicle has and see if this is an option for you! (The safety expert that was leading our demonstrations utilizes this option for her family because they are in and out of different cars so often.) You’ll still need to use the top tether with the seat belt option.
- Use the LATCH *or* seat belt but not both. This is a common mistake.
- Make sure your rear-facing infant seat does not touch the seat back in front of it.
- Car seats care safe side by side in the back seat if you can slide an adult hand between the seats.
- Check Safercar.gov for car seat recommendations based on your child’s age, height and weight
Don’t forget that as a sports / scout / carpool parent, you are responsible for ensuring that the children in your vehicle are properly restrained at all times. Mifold and Bubblebum both make easy-to-store booster seats for times when you have extra kids in your car. I know as a scout leader I have plenty of times when I have several girls in my car that still need to be in a booster seat. They might not be happy with it, but I think that their parents will be happy that we took the extra few minutes to be safe in the event of an accident.
Think your car is a rock star when it comes to car / booster seats? Check out the Car Seat Honor Roll from Cars.com and see if your vehicle make the list! I drive a 2014 Toyota Highlander and it was super easy to see how my car rates (pretty good overall!)
At the end of the day, make sure you understand your car, your brand of car seats, and how they work together. And don’t be afraid read your owners manual and ask questions if you need help!!!