The safest seat is one that is installed properly, fits your child, fits your car, and is used properly 100% of the time. Currently, approximately 80% of car seats are being used incorrectly. Not sure if you are using it right? Here are some basics:
~ Use the right path. Check your manual to see where the belt goes through, especially on seats that rear face and forward face. If you are using LATCH, make sure to route it through the correct path as well.
~ Make sure the harness is at the correct height. For rear facing seats, it needs to be at or below the child's shoulder. For forward facing, it needs to be at or above the shoulder.
~ A correct installation will have less than 1" of movement at the belt path. To test this, grab where the seat belt/LATCH goes through with your weaker hand and then tug gently. Most seats will move at other points, especially rear facing ones, but this is ok, this is how they work.
~ Remember to lock the car's seat belt. All cars after 1996 will do this in some way. Some you just pull the shoulder belt all the way out, and then let it retract back in, you should hear a ratcheting sound. Some seat belts lock at the latch plate (buckle), please read your car's manual to find how which you have and how to use them. If your car does not have locking belts, you must use a locking clip. Here is a good video on using a locking clip:
Here is some good info on locking seat belts and how to tell what yours are:
http://www.carseatsite.com/lockingclips.htm ~When installing your child's seat forward-facing, be sure to attach the top tether. If your car does not have tether anchors, these can be retrofitted inexpensively or for free, depending on your car's manufacturer.
Use: ~ Make sure that the harness is snug, you should not be able to pinch any webbing at the child's shoulder. Here you can see a FAQ w/pictures on how to do the pinch test: http://www.car-seat.org/showthread.php?t=49030 More harness info: http://www.carseatsite.com/correct_harness_use.htm ~ Make sure that the chest clip is positioned even with the armpits. A too low clip can result in internal injuries or even ejection in a crash.
~ Do not use a Bundle Me or heavy coats or snowsuits in the car seat. These can interfere with getting the straps properly tightened and/or compress during a crash allowing a child to be injured or ejected. The test to see if the coat is ok in a seat is to put the child in the seat w/the coat on, tighten the straps appropriately, and then take the child out with out adjusting the harness. Take the coat off, and then put the child back in the seat. Are the straps able to pinch now? If yes, then the coat is not ok to use. Bundle me's and snuzzlers are also not ok, anything that goes between your child and the harness is not ok, and can actually hinder the way the seat works.
~ Make sure that the seat is not expired. They usually expire 6 years after the date of manufacture-this is on a sticker on the seat. It should state in the manual and somewhere on the seat how long it lasts. The reason they expire is because the plastic breaks down over time. This can make the harness go right through the plastic shell in a crash.
~ Make sure the seat is not recalled. The manufacturers website will have an area you can put in your model # and date of manufacture to check for this.
What seat should I use? Infants:
~ Always use a rear facing seat. The bare minimum to turn a child forward facing is 1 year AND 20 pounds. Check your seat however, they all have different height and weight minimums to turn forward. You MUST follow the manufacturers instructions, failure to do so can result the seat not working properly because it has not been tested for anything under/over these limits.
~ You should not use products that did not come with the seat. Bundle me's, strap covers and head huggers are considered aftermarket products. They are not crash tested, contrary to what the package says, there is no standards they have to adhere to. Like snowsuits and puffy jackets, these products can give the illusion of a tight harness. In a crash, they can compress and make the straps too loose.
~ Rear facing as long as your convertible allows is 5 times safer than turning forward facing right at 1 year AND 20 pounds. Up until their spinal bones fully ossify between age 3 and 6, young children are at significantly increased risk of spinal injuries, possibly leading to paralysis or even death, when forward facing in a vehicle. Research has also shown rear facing to offer significantly improved protection over forward facing in side-impact accidents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended rear facing to the limits since 2002.
http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics%3b109/3/550 More information on rear facing and why it is safer:
http://www.car-safety.org/rearface.html http://www.cpsafety.com/articles/StayRearFacing.aspx http://forum.baby-gaga.com/about347329.html http://www.joelsjourney.org/index.html Good videos on the subject:
But, my child's feet are touching the vehicle's seat, isn't this dangerous/uncomfortable?
~ There are no documented cases of a child's legs breaking from touching the seat while rear facing.
~ Kids are notoriously bendy, they can sit indian style, frog style, hang their legs over the side or put them up the seat back. What looks uncomfortable to us, is not for them.
Photos of older kids, riding comfortably rear facing:
REMEMBER: EVERY step "up" (from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster to adult belt) in car seats is actually a step down in safety.
~ If you do decide to turn your toddler forward facing, make sure to still follow the basic rules listed above. You can also use the top tether anchor to help reduce head excursion(flying forward) in a crash.
~ A forward facing seat is outgrown by 2 factors, when the child has hit the weight limit, or when their shoulders go above the top harness slot. Most seats are outgrown by height first.
My toddler/preschooler outgrew the harness in his seat, I have to put him in a booster now, right? ~ There are seats out there now that harness longer than just 40 pounds. They go from 65-80 pounds, which has been shown to be safer than a booster at a young age.
~ 4 years and 40 pounds is the bare minimum for a booster seat. They must, however, be mature enough to stay seated, correctly, the whole ride. You can't pinpoint when a crash happens, so this is very important. The seat will not work properly if they slump or put the belt behind their back.
~A child needs to fit properly in the booster:
1. The lap belt must lie flat across the child's upper thighs, not on the soft belly. A lap belt on the belly can cause internal injuries in a crash.
2. The shoulder belt must lie snugly across the center of the shoulder.
This site: http://www.iihs.org/research/topics/child_restraints/default.html has photos of a poor fit vs. a proper fit of the belt.
~ High back boosters provide more side impact protection than no back boosters
~ If you want to use the no back booster, you must have headrests in the car for the child.
Can't my child sit in the regular belt? My state law says that it's ok.
~Children will not be protected by the regular belt until they can pass the 5 step test:
http://www.carseat.org/Boosters/630.htm This is usually around age 8 or at 4'9" tall. If they cannot pass this test, then they still need to be in a booster seat for optimal protection.
Quoting Beth!: rear facing. part of a travel system. i have the hooks though, I don't use the seat belt.
When I install a infant seat base, I push the front seats all the way up first. I stand behind it if I can, or I just stand to the side, thread the belt (or LATCH strap) through, buckle it (or attach it), and then I use my knees (or knee) to push the base back toward the vehicle seat and one hand to push down on the area the LATCH goes through. I then pull the belt/tightener tight back through the belt path instead of straight up outside of the base. I can get a rock solid, shake the car install this way. Make sense?
Quoting Andie.: When I install a infant seat base, I push the front seats all the way up first. I stand behind it if ... [snip!] ... the belt path instead of straight up outside of the base. I can get a rock solid, shake the car install this way. Make sense?
Yeah but I don't use the seat belt. I use the hooks.
Quoting Andie.: You do it the same way. Where I said buckle, you can just disregard that part and attach the hooks instead.
I have it in right, because the hospital checked it and all that jazz. But, I just thought that lady was intense with her car seat putting in. She did a damn good job and was very efficient. I liked her determination.
Quoting Beth!: I have it in right, because the hospital checked it and all that jazz. But, I just thought that lady ... [snip!] ... that lady was intense with her car seat putting in. She did a damn good job and was very efficient. I liked her determination.
Me too. That's how I look when installing my seats, I like them to have NO movement.
I wanted to add these pictures on how to tell if you harness is tight enough.
*This child has out growen the car seat and it is not used in a car. It was only used for these pictures.
*The Chest clip is where it needs to be also.
This harness looks tight enough right?
Well I can pinch the harness which means its still to lose.
This is the harness at how tight it should be. You really can tell a differance in the harness can you.
See I cannot pinch the harness now
You need to also make sure you get the extra slack by the thighs by pulling up at the buckle like this. You want to do this on both sides. If you have the Evenflo Advance car seat then you need to pull all the slack down thru the chest clip towards the legs.