Using a Child Safety Seat Correctly
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Using a Child Safety Seat Correctly

Modern cars do an excellent job at protecting adults in crashes, but their safety systems aren’t scaled for smaller passengers. To keep your children safe, they’ll need to be in a car seat. However, simply buying one isn’t enough: over half of these seats are used incorrectly, putting their users at risk during accidents. Here’s what you should look for when buying a seat, installing it, and using it to protect your child.

Which Seat Does My Child Need?

Today, there are four seat designs, each intended for a specific stage in a child’s development:

– Infant rear-facing for children under a year old
– Child rear-facing for children between one and three years old
– Front-facing for children between four and 7 years old, or those who are beyond the maximum height or weight for a rear-facing seat
– Booster seat for children 8 to 12 years old, or over 80 lbs.

The most important factor when choosing a seat is how well it fits your child and your vehicle; simply buying a pricier seat doesn’t mean better protection. Where possible, buy a new seat: a used seat could have unseen damage, and aging plastic can reduce crash protection. If you do buy used, make sure you know the seat’s history and check the seat tag to make sure it’s within the expiration date. Built-in booster seats found in some Volvo and Chrysler products can be used for the life of the vehicle.

Seats should always be replaced if they were involved in a crash, even if it was just a minor fender bender. Although the seat may look OK, it could be hiding damage that will keep it from offering maximum protection in a major accident.

Registering and Recalls

Registering your seat will ensure you’ll know about any safety recalls. If you’re not sure if your seat has been recalled, call the NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236.

Installing the Seat

The force of a detonating airbag can be dangerous to children, which is why the NHTSA recommends putting passengers who are 13 or younger in the back seat.

Before you put the seat in your car, read the instruction manual for the seat and check your car’s owner’s manual for car seat information: different models have slight variations, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to fitting a seat to your vehicle. That said, there are a couple of details that are easy to overlook:

The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, found in almost every car built since 2003, uses an anchor between the seat back and cushion and a tether point behind the top of the vehicle seat to keep the child seat in place. The lower anchor is only rated for a maximum of 65 lbs. including the child and the seat. Larger seats will need to be secured with the seat belt, even if there’s a lower anchor available.
The seat belt tensioner needs to be locked to secure the child safety seat to the vehicle seat. How this is done will depend on your car’s seatbelt design: some belts need to be pulled out all the way then retracted, while others have a lock button.

Still having problems? Both the NHTSA and Zero in Wisconsin, the DOT’s campaign against preventable traffic deaths, have a series of videos with tips on seat installation.

Getting the Seat Checked

Even if you think you’ve installed the seat correctly, it’s a good idea to get it checked by a professional. The Wisconsin Information Network for Safety (WINS) and NHTSA both maintain lists of locations where you can have your child seat inspected. These locations include medical centers, police stations, and fire stations, and will usually require an appointment for an inspection.

Using the Seat

When putting your child in a safety seat, make sure they’re positioned correctly:

– Your child’s back should be against the back of the seat.
– All straps need to be snug, but not tight. The chest strap should be level with the child’s armpits.
– Shoulder straps should connect to the seat at or directly below the child’s shoulders.

Seat belts are designed to lie across the passenger’s upper thighs and be snug across their shoulder and chest. If the booster seat fits correctly, the belt should be in these same places.

Repairing Your Car After a Crash

Using a car seat correctly can protect your child during an accident, but there’s no way to get around vehicle damage in a crash. When you need collision repairs, bring your car to Merton Auto Body. We have an appraiser on staff to get work approved with your insurance company quickly, while our staff of I-CAR and ASE-certified technicians can make your vehicle as safe as it was before the accident.




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