One of the tasks facing new parents is mastering the art of keeping their baby safe in an automobile. It’s important work: Road injuries are the leading preventable cause of death and injury to children in the United States.
The proper use of car seats is critical in keeping a child safe. However, it’s estimated that 75 percent of car seats aren’t used or installed correctly.
Here are some tips we share with new parents to keep baby safe in the car.
- Babies belong in rear-facing car seats. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children stay in a rear-facing seat until he or she has outgrown the seat by both height and weight. That usually happens around a child’s second birthday, but some children can be in rear-facing seats until four or five years of age.
- Read your manuals. Hang on to the manual for both the child’s car seat and the automobile in which it’s placed. They offer the best advice on how to safely install a car seat.
- Shoulder straps should be tight. Once baby is buckled into the seat and the shoulder straps are tightened, give the straps the “pinch test.” Try to pinch the fabric as you can near the baby’s shoulder. If you can gather fabric when pinching, the straps need to be tightened. It may feel very tight, but it’s safest for the baby.
- Avoid bulky coats. When you place a child in a seat with bulky clothing and then tighten the straps, it creates a false tightness that can be dangerous in a collision. Try this: Place your child in the seat while he or she wears bulky clothing. Tighten the straps as recommended above. Then remove your child from the seat without adjusting the straps, remove the bulky clothing, and put your baby back into the seat and buckle your child in. This is the space created by bulky clothing. In the event of a crash, the harness straps push against the bulky clothing, compressing it and creating space between the harness and your child and the child can be injured or even ejected from the seat. To keep a baby warm, put a blanket over baby once he or she is buckled in safely. Save the big coats for when he or she is outside.
- Position the chest buckle correctly. This “retainer clip” should be placed along an imaginary line between your baby’s nipples.
- Skip after-market products. Use only the headrests and other items that come with the seat, as they’re designed to safely work with the car seat.
These important steps will help keep your youngest passengers safe in the event of a collision.
If you have questions about installing a car seat, visit Mass.gov for a list of car seat inspection sites near you. A certified technician will install a car seat for free—or ensure one you’ve already installed is safe.