Researchers continue to go to great lengths in designing car seats to keep our little ones safe—but that research has little impact when parents install the seats incorrectly. A study by the NHTSA estimates that nearly half of child car seats are installed wrong—but certified passenger safety technicians often find those percentages to be much higher. (One estimated more than 70 percent, another at over 95 percent!)
Statistically speaking…if you’re a parent of a small child who uses a car seat, chances are you’re doing it wrong. Here are a few of the most common car seat installation mistakes to avoid.
- Seat installed too loosely. When the car seat is correctly installed with the safety belt pulled through and tightened, the seat should be able to shift no more than one inch in any direction.
- Incorrect harness installation. The safety harness serves to cushion and secure your child in the seat in the event of an impact. Many parents worry that a tight harness is too uncomfortable for the child, but if it’s too loose, it won’t protect the child in an accident. The harness should be tight enough that you can’t insert more than one finger between the strap and your child’s collarbone—and the clip should rest at the height of the armpits.
- Child faces forward too soon. Babies’ necks aren’t strong enough to withstand a sudden impact without support; a rear-facing car seat provides that protection. The car seat should face the rear of the vehicle until the infant is at least a year old and weighs at least 20 pounds. Any sooner, and the infant could be at risk for neck/brain injury from the force of collision, even in the car seat.
- Wrong resting angle for rear-facing seats. A rear-facing seat should recline backward slightly, but not more than a 45-degree angle. If the seat is too upright, an infant’s head could flop forward and obstruct breathing; if it reclines too far backward, the infant could be thrown forward and upward out of the seat through the harnesses in the event of a crash.
- Not using the top tether. For forward-facing seats, always attach the top tether to the permanent seat at the proper anchoring spot (usually found behind the seat). Failing to do so could cause the child car seat to lurch too far forward in a collision, increasing the child’s risk for head injury.
Admittedly, car seat installation can be complicated—which is why so many parents make mistakes—so talk to a professional if you’re ever in doubt about whether you’re installing the seat correctly. If you or someone you love is injured in an accident due to negligence, poor seat design or other issues, call our Washington D.C. personal injury attorneys for advice and representation.