5 Installation Tips from a Car Seat Expert

First time parents sit anxiously in the lobby of my office, nervously awaiting their first meeting with a certified child passenger safety technician. After going over what feels like thousands of little details to ready themselves for the arrival of the newest member of their family, this couple finally reached one of the most daunting tasks—figure out the car seat.

Many parents, both new and old, dread this aspect of child safety just for the mere fact that it can be one of the most difficult. Even the most educated person could struggle with installation, harnessing, or simply choosing which car seat would be best for his/her child. Once the duty of purchasing seat is complete, the process of actually using it correctly comes into play. There are fantastic resources out there for parents to utilize in order to safeguard their newest car-riding companion, but sometimes it’s just too overwhelming.

I greet these parents with a smile and a clipboard, ready to take on the array of questions that have been building up inside their jittery minds ever since they walked in. After a quick chat, we head outside to their vehicle, and the car seat check begins.

Meeting with a child passenger safety technician is quite common for families, but the facts show that it could definitely be done more often—nearly 70% of car seats are not used properly. Many people don’t realize that within their own communities are individuals—whether in the police/fire, healthcare, or another field— that are specifically trained to help them use their car seats and booster seats properly. These professionals, otherwise known as CPSTs, learn not about each and every car seat on the market, but instead how to decipher the often difficult to read labels, manuals, and other resources that come with a car seat. CPSTs also know how to look for other “misuse”—or things that could negatively affect the way your car seat works in a crash—such as if the car seat you’ve been passing down through the family “OK” after all these years—yes, car seats have an expiration date (which is six years unless otherwise noted by the manufacturer)!

So what can YOU do to ensure that your child rides safely in your vehicle? Here are some quick pointers:

  • Always choose a car seat and/or booster seat that not only fits the height/weight of your child, but also your vehicle, lifestyle, and budget. There are many stores that will allow you to try out a car seat before you buy it, so make sure you’re comfortable with the product before shelling out the big bucks on something that will only cause you more frustration.
     
  • Register your car seat! Besides having an expiration date—a car seat will always have the date it was manufactured labeled somewhere on the shell and sometimes the date it expires will be there, too—sometimes car seat manufacturers will recall their products if they find something faulty in the design. If you mail in the registration card that comes with the car seat or simply log on to the company’s website to register, you’ll be alerted instantly of these changes, as well as other important announcements they may have.
     
  • Let your child grow out of the car seat you’re using before jumping ahead to the next step. For example, if your child is in a rear-facing car seat, it’s safer to leave her this direction for as long as the car seat allows, especially while using a convertible car seat which typically has an upper weight limit of 40-50 lbs. The best practice would be to leave a child in a rear-facing car seat until at least two years of age, but if your sweet bundle of joy can stay that direction longer, it will be much safer. Also, it is very common to see children who could still be in a forward-facing harnessed car seat in a booster seat too soon. Basically, always max out the car seat you’re currently using before taking the next step. Always keep in mind that although laws may vary from state to state and that they are a good foundation of safety, there may be safer measures you can take to protect your child.
     
  • Consult a Child Passenger Safety Technician in your area—there are tons! If you visit safekids.org and input your location, you will be amazed to see that there are many educated and helpful individuals who will be able to straighten out any problem you may have, as well as provide you with the information needed to install and use that car seat, as well as any others you may use in the future.
     
  • Become a CPST! If you find that child passenger safety is something you’re also passionate about and would like to help others, look for a CPS class in your area. Most Safe Kids coalitions will have registration available on safekids.org.

After a few deep breaths, the new parents left with not only a weight lifted off of their shoulders, but a confidence that will ensure that their precious cargo will be riding safely on the roads—and hopefully yours will too!

 

About the Author
Brittni Henderson is a Senior Clinical Research Assistant and Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor at Rhode Island Hospital and Safe Kids Rhode Island, respectively. Henderson became a certified technician in August 2014 and then an instructor for the program in May of 2016. Educating families on the importance of child passenger safety is one of her strongest passions due to the high injury and death rate that could result from improper car seat, booster seat, and seat belt use. Follow @SafeKidsRI on Facebook and Twitter for updates on car seat check up events, as well as other informative tips and tricks to ensure the safety of your precious cargo!

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