This Common Parenting Mistake Can Have Deadly Consequences

Parents of young children often spend a great deal of time researching how to keep their children healthy and safe.

News and social media sites are full of parenting advice from nutrition to behavior to developmental milestones.

But one of the most important things for parents to research and understand is the proper use of car seats — and many are using them incorrectly and putting their child at great risk.

CBS News reported:

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children older than 3 in the U.S. and cause another 179,000 child injuries each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child safety seats cut death risk by 71 percent for infant passengers and 54 percent for toddlers between the ages of 1 and 4 – if they are used properly.

Although most parents restrain their infants and toddlers in car seats, many do not follow current guidelines to fully protect their child.

Car safety seats have become increasingly more complex and can be frustrating to use and install, and this is one of the major reasons they are not properly used.

Fox News reported:

In fact, this frustration may be the biggest reason for some of the mistakes parents make when installing car seats, such as ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions for installation.

Many parents decide to chuck the instruction book and instead try to figure out how to install the seat on their own.

Another mistake is forgetting to read their car owner’s manual to determine the safest place to install the seat in the car. If they don’t find any placement recommendations or if the instructions aren’t clear, parents often fail to call the car seat manufacturer to get the company’s recommendation as to where to put the seat.

Each child seat and each type of vehicle requires specific guidelines for proper installation, yet many parents believe seats are standardized and can be used the same way in every vehicle.

Many parents are unaware of the correct age restrictions for using child car seats, as well, either switching their children into seats not designed for their age or facing them forward in the vehicle too early.

CBS News reported on some of the current recommended guidelines depending on age and weight of the child.

Recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics call for exclusive use of rear-facing car seats in infants and toddlers until they reach 2 (or exceed the seat’s weight or height maximums), followed by forward-facing car seats for kids older than 2 until they grow out of them based on the manufacturers’ specifications.

School-aged kids who are too big for a forward-facing car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat, says the academy, until a seat belt fits properly, typically when the child is 4 feet 9 inches or between 8 and 12 years old. Older kids are recommended to use seat belts in the back seat of a car until they reach 13, an age the academy considers safe for teens to move to the front seat.

One of the most common mistakes is letting an older child between the ages of 5 and 8 sit without a booster seat in a seatbelt alone, or allowing pre-teens or even younger children to sit in the front seat.

Often parents give in to older children who feel they are too “big” to be in a booster seat, but car seatbelts are specifically designed for adults. Even older kids can be severely injured by a shoulder belt that does not sit properly over the shoulder or by an airbag deploying in the front seat.

And even when parents think they are following all of the manufacturer’s guidelines when installing the seat in the car, they may not secure their children properly in the seat itself.

Fox News reported many parents fail to use the harness systems in car safety seats properly by:

Installing the seat too loosely. There should be no wiggle room after the seat is in place. The seat shouldn’t be able to move more than one inch forward or sideways. Seat belts need to be pulled as tightly as possible so that the seat is kept as immobile as possible.

Leaving the harness straps too loose. Straps should fit snugly around the child. The harness retainer clip, which snaps the vertical and horizontal straps together, should be at the same levels as the child’s armpits. It is often placed on the same level as the child’s belly. That’s too low to provide the proper restraint in an accident.

Failing to use all of the harnesses to secure the child into position. There are two types of car seats, those with a 3-point harness system and those with a 5-point harness system.A 3-point harness system has two straps at the shoulder and one between the legs. A 5-point system has two straps at the shoulder, two at the hips, and one between the legs.

Making sure the car seat is properly stabilized in the vehicle is also vital.  Most new car seats come with a guide or markings to ensure the car seat is level with the vehicle seat and cannot tip forward in a collision.

Due to the high incidence of child fatalities even when car safety seats are used, the federal government developed regulations for cars designed after 2002 to include a “LATCH” system, an acronym for “lower anchors and tethers for children.”

These latch systems allow for the safety seat to attach to anchors built into the frame of the backseat for additional security, but even with this system, many parents use only the car seatbelt or have difficulties with installation.

It is vital that all parents do their research to take every precaution to properly secure their child in a vehicle.

While it may be a frustrating ordeal, learning and following every regulation for your specific seat, vehicle, and child is well worth the time to prevent a tragedy.

It is also important to note that our children watch what we model as parents.  Learning to properly buckle-up from a young age is a vital lesson.

If you have questions or concerns, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends contacting a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician for help. When in doubt, it is best to have a trained individual help with car seat installation.

Many local fire departments and police stations offer free car seat installation.  To find a child safety seat inspection station in your area, logon to www.seatcheck.org.

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