Editor’s Note: This morning we have Comox Valley mom and car seat safety technician Jen Shapka with us to talk about how important it is to have your kids car seats installed properly – and to have them double checked. I’ve always been of the mind that our seats were in properly, until an ICBC tech took a look and gave us some tips on how to improve the safety of them. It could save your kid’s lives.
How confident are you that your child’s car seat or booster seat is installed properly? Does it surprise you to learn that more than 80% of seats are installed or used incorrectly? I am a certified car seat technician, and I’ve inspected many seats…and I’ve yet to see even one done properly.
Do you know what you don’t know?
There is always something. Sometimes it’s a complete disaster and I need to work hard to control my expression to not alarm the parents. Other times it’s relatively minor, but wrong nonetheless. The thing with car seats (and boosters too, don’t forget about boosters!) is that until, and if, you are in the unfortunate position to test out your installation (read – car wreck) you won’t know how important that big or little thing was. Not keen on using your child as a crash test dummy? Read on, and then set up a free appointment with me so I can double check for you.
Car seats are some of the most complicated pieces of baby and child gear you may ever come across; probably much more complicated than you realize. Add to that the tremendous variety of vehicles out there, and it’s truly a recipe for confusion. Following are a few common errors and some handy tips to make your kids safer in the car:
The best seat is the one that you will use properly every single time, fits your child properly, installs well in your vehicle, and fits your budget. Every seat on the market passes the same crash tests BUT ONLY IF IT’S USED PROPERLY! You don’t have to spend a lot of money to keep your child safe. But you do have to rigorously follow the manufacturer’s instructions. This proves challenging if the instruction book is nearly indecipherable.
1. Read the manual. Then read it again. Then read the section on child restraints and air bags in your vehicle manual. Then read your car seat manual again. They’re notoriously poorly written, so feel free to email me to ask me what the heck you just read.
2. Rear face your child as long as you can, and aim for at least two years or until you max out the limits on your seat, either by height or by weight. Don’t rush into a booster, and aim for 40lbs PLUS developmentally mature enough to stay in position, often around age 5 or 6. While your child must be in a booster until age 9 or to a height of 4’9″ tall, don’t rush out of that either. Ensure the belt fits properly without the booster, and it may in one car but not another. Keep kids in the back seat until they’re 13. They may be the size of an adult, but their skeletons aren’t as physically mature.
UAS (known as LATCH in the U.S.) was supposed to make installations easier and less confusing. It’s probably made it worse. You don’t ever use UAS and the seatbelt at the same time. You don’t use UAS in the middle of your vehicle unless your vehicle manual specifically allows it — most don’t. Your vehicle’s UAS has a weight limit – do you know what it is? After you reach it, you must install with the seat belt. You need to use the right belt path, the correct harness slots, and install at the right angle. Don’t forget to get it tight, with less than 1” of movement in any direction at the belt path.
3. Boosters. There are more to them than you might expect. High back, backless, belt fit, head rests, screws in adjustable armrests, buckling in after the child gets out so it’s not a projectile. The list goes on, but I have answers!
If your seat has ever been in a collision of any kind, been dropped from more than three feet, or been checked as luggage on an airplane, I would consider it crashed and it needs to be replaced. Expired seats should not be used either, and that’s not just a ploy by the manufacturers to get you to buy a new seat. You can’t use an American seat in Canada, even if it appears to be exactly the same (many are structurally different).
The biggest mistake of all is assuming you’ve got it right. Whether you’re completely confident or completely confused, get your car seat inspected by a certified car seat tech. You’ll be glad that you did. I won’t make you feel bad or judge your parenting skills. In fact, I’m quite friendly and helpful…and it’s free.
I’m Jen Shapka. E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll make sure your kids and your car seats are as safe as possible.