We know that drivers and their passengers can decrease their odds of injury and death by using passenger restraints properly. Infants and children are especially vulnerable passengers considering they need adults to see to it that they are using age-appropriate and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts as they were intended. A new study suggests parents and caregivers aren’t doing a very good job of that:

In 2013, car accidents resulted in approximately 8,500 infants requiring hospitalization or emergency department visits and 135 infant deaths. When used properly, car seats can reduce the risk of infant death and injury by 71%. However, in a new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that most families with newborns made at least one serious error in the use and installation of their car safety seat…

The researchers found that 95% of families made at least one error in car seat use, and 91% made a serious error. The most common errors included loose harness and car seat installation, low chest clip, and incorrect recline angle. Although 15% of families had, in fact, worked with a certified car safety technician, 83% of them still had at least one error in use. Factors that contributed to a higher rate of car seat misuse included lower socioeconomic status, lower educational attainment, and non-English primary language.


Here is a list of the most common mistakes parents make, and how to fix them, courtesy of the AAP, the CDC, and Babycenter.com:

  1. Facing the car seat forward too soon. Facing rear keeps your child’s head and neck from snapping forward in a collision and causing severe spinal injuries. Keep your child rear-facing until age 2 or when they reach the upper weight or height limits of their particular seat. (Check the seat’s owner’s manual and/or labels on the seat for weight and height limits.) Remember: rear-facing infants need to recline at a 45 degree angle. (Modern car seats have easy-to-use levels on their sides.)
  2. Base of the car seat attached too loosely. The car seat or booster seat should be attached to the vehicle’s seat with very little wiggle room; the base should not be able to be budged more than one inch from side-to-side and up-and-down.
  3. Harness straps are loose or twisted. If you can pinch any excess fabric on the harness, it’s too loose and your child will not be held in place correctly in a collision. Make sure harness straps lie flat, not twisted. Pull the harness nice and snug, to hold child safely in a crash.
  4. The harness clip is too low. If the clip is too low, the straps can slide off your child’s shoulders resulting in too loose a fit. Position the clip that connects the two straps at armpit level to securely hold your child.
  5. Child is bundled up in the seat. Bulky clothes (like a winter jacket) compresses in a crash, creating slack in the harness. Don’t put anything thicker than a light fleece between your child and the harness. Cover your child with a blanket if needed after the harness is buckled.
  6. Seat is too old. Because plastic gets brittle with age and compromises the safety of the seat, most modern car seats have a six-year expiration date. Used secondhand seats should not be used since they are unlikely to come with the manufacturer’s instructions which are needed for correct installation. Also, they may have missing parts, unseen damage from previous accidents which can affect the seat’s function, or outdated safety features. Finally, older models may have been recalled by the manufacturer due to faulty or dangerous designs.


Of course, the most egregious mistake adults can make is allowing children to ride in a car unrestrained. (A child or tween riding in the front seat comes in second place; children under 13 years old should ride appropriately restrained in the back seat.) Doing it right takes money (these car seats and boosters are not cheap), patience (don’t lose a finger trying to get things nice and snug), and consistency (using it properly every single time, in every vehicle driven).

And don’t forget to buckle up, yourself. Do the right thing and be a good role model for all children!


(Google Images)