I'm always amazed to find out how many new moms and dads go to the hospital with no clue how to secure their baby into the car seat when it's time to come home — let alone install it. I must admit, it does seem to take an engineering degree to figure out how to secure it snugly in the car at first. In fact, according to the Safe Kids USA, 82 percent of all car seats are installed and/or being used incorrectly. And National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration statistics indicate motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 3-14.
In addition to having problems securing car seats properly, most parents don't know the appropriate height and age requirements for car seats and booster seats. Fortunately most towns have a police officer on staff who has been thoroughly trained in the installation of car seats and will be happy to check that your car seat is installed properly and update you on requirements for each type of seat. Usually this service is free of charge to residents of the town or a nominal fee for a resident of a neighboring town.
The following are some quick tips on proper car seat use:
• Infants should always be placed in a rear-facing car seat. They must stay this way until they are 20 pounds and 1 year of age.
• The belt on the car seat should be fastened at chest level and you should be able to place no more than one finger between the strap and the baby’s shoulder.
• Never put an infant in the front seat of a car that has a passenger side air bag!
• Check the weight restrictions on infant carriers! Some have a maximum weight limit of 15 pounds, which many infants will outgrow prior to turning 1 year.
• A car seat should be thrown out when it is older than five years. At this point, the leather and cloth can begin wearing down, thereby compromising the integrity of the car seat.
• Booster seats are as important as car seats! A child should remain in a booster seat, rather than using an adult seat belt, until he or she is 57 inches tall and weighs between 80 and 100 pounds. Many parents are too quick to move their child out of this seat. Every state has different requirements so check on your state’s website.