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Is Your Child Safety Seat Properly Installed?

Aug 17, 2007
Most adults would answer yes, but the reality is that this is typically not the case.

The first step is to purchase the best seat available, but with so many choices of safety seats for babies and young children, how do you determine which is the best one to buy?

Of course you want to select a seat based on the quality of the construction, but there are other things to look for. First, make sure the seat meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards*. Also make sure that the seat hasn't been recalled. You can check this out by going to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's web site at http://www.cpsc.gov. Be sure to register your new car seat with the manufacturer, so you'll be notified of any future recalls. Also, purchase a seat that includes a LATCH system, which anchors the seat more securely than is often possible with current safety belts.

Once you purchase the car seat, the most important thing is to learn the proper way to install it in your vehicles. Statistics indicate that more than 80% of all child safety seats are not installed correctly. This is mind boggling! Your child's life is at stake, so read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly.

The seat you select should fit a number of vehicles and be easy to use. Obviously, if you have more than one vehicle the seat should fit each one according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The most common problem when installing car seats is that they aren't tight enough. When tightened properly, the seat shouldn't move freely.

For a rear-facing safety seat, it should not easily slide more than about an inch. To check this, grasp the seat near the belt path on both sides and try to pull it away from the vehicle seat and also test the movement from side to side. Next, push the top edge downward toward the floor of the car. The vehicle seat cushion may give, but the safety seat should remain firmly in place and the back of the seat should stay at approximately the same angle (reclined about halfway back). It's normal - and okay - if the top of the seat can be pushed toward the rear of the car and if it swivels from side to side when gripped at the top edge. If the belt is tight but the seat isn't secure, try another seating position or a different safety seat altogether.

For a forward-facing safety seat with a harness, use a top tether for a more secure installation. First, install the seat using the vehicle belt or lower latch attachments but without attaching the top tether. To test the seat, grasp it at the belt path and pull it forward and side to side. Then grip the top and test the same movements. If it can easily move more than an inch forward or to the side, try another seating position that also includes a tether anchor. Using the best lower installation (vehicle belt or latch), attach and tighten the top tether. If your vehicle doesn't have a tether or anchor, either purchase a different safety seat or order a tether kit from the safety seat manufacturer. The kits are available for most vehicles made since 1989 and for many back to the late 1970s.
One helpful hint for initial installation is to place both of your knees inside the safety seat so you can gain enough leverage to properly tighten the seat. Some cars require a special metal locking clip, which should ideally be located as close as possible to the seat belt's buckle.

Always restrain your children in the rear seat of your vehicle, especially if it's equipped with a passenger-side air bag.

Booster seats are a must for children who have outgrown their child safety seat but are too small for regular vehicle seat belts. These are typically three to six-year olds who weigh between 40 and 80 pounds and are up to 4 feet 9 inches tall. If your child's weight has exceeded the recommended range for a forward-facing safety seat, make sure your child's knees reach the end of that seat and that their legs hang straight down before graduating to a booster seat.

Be cautious about purchasing a seat at a garage sale or using a 'hand-me-down' - particularly if the instructions aren't included. Never use a seat that's more than six years old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics web site has an annual car seat guide that includes a list of the seats that meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Now is the perfect time to check the safety installation of your child's car seat.
About the Author
Janet Winter is a web designer, travel agent, and writer on many topics. She delights in providing great resources for parents and unique gifts for newborns, toddlers and baby showers at WelcomeBabyGifts.com.
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