Are you going out with your little one? Parents may think that buckling up their babies is not that complicated. But not knowing car seat safety essentials can put our kids in danger.
As they say, it’s always best to err on the side of caution, especially when driving with babies. So, I listed the things to inspect before you hit the road.
Make it a habit to check this list to avoid forgetting anything. After all, worry-free car rides should always be our priority!
1. State Laws and Australian Standards
First things first: find a properly fitting car seat type for your baby. Aside from the Australian safety standards, you can also use car seat safety ratings as a basis for your choice.
Child Car Seats, for instance, has details of star ratings based on model and brand.
Under the law, your child’s age and height limit are the two requirements for using car seats in Australia. So, keep both in mind when buying.
Also, follow the seat manufacturer’s instructions and road laws when using the car seat.
2. Car Seat Installation
Problem: Failing to tightly secure car seats to their vehicles is a common mistake parents commit. And a loose car seat can seriously injure your child’s head or face in case of a collision.
Solution: Before using the car seat, read and follow its instructions first. Then, after securing your child in it, test it. The car seat should not move more than a couple of centimetres when pulled at any side.
I also suggest consulting a seat safety fitting service to help you each time you buy a new seat.
3. Straps and Harness Chest Clip
Problem: Parents tend to leave too much slack on the 5-point harness or straps. When you forget to tighten these correctly, the harness chest clip usually lands at the belly button, which is wrong.
If you do not ensure a snug fit, the straps can slip off your child’s shoulders. When this happens, he’s at a higher risk of injury or ejection from the seat during a crash.
Solution: Try pinching the belt fabric with your thumb and index finger. If it wrinkles, the harness strap is too loose. Tighten it enough that you can no longer do the pinch test.
Then, position the harness chest clip at the armpit level. Doing this should keep your child’s torso protected.
I recommend testing the straps and their ease of use when purchasing. Some models also have harnesses with automated repositioning, which should help avoid these mistakes.
4. Car Seat Position
Problem: Putting the child seat at the passenger side or in a forward-facing position too soon is dangerous. The airbag could hit your child in the passenger seat in case of an accident.
And if your child is facing forward, the force of the crash will pull his head, legs and arms. It can potentially injure his neck and underdeveloped spine.
Solution: To ensure car seat safety, keep your child rear-facing until he reaches the maximum weight and height. Make sure to check the seat manufacturer’s recommendation.
Then, always position your baby at the centre of the back seat. This way, he stays protected even during a side-impact collision.
When your child is ready for a forward-facing seat, use the tether strap to anchor it to your motor vehicle. Better yet, ask a professional fitter to help you out.
5. Car Seat Angle
Problem: A rear-facing seat should be in a semi-reclined position to keep your baby’s airways unobstructed. Without the correct angle adjustment, the heavy head of your child will bend forward, making breathing difficult.
Solution: Modern car seats now have built-in angle indicators and adjusters to guide you. Check the manual and make the necessary adjustments as your baby grows older.
If your car seat lacks these features, ask a child passenger safety technician how to do this with tightly rolled up towels or swimming-pool noodles.
6. Baby’s Outerwear
Problem: Winter clothes or jackets will protect your baby from the cold. However, the extra layers can also prevent you from achieving a snug fit on the car seat.
Solution: What you can do instead is to strap your baby first, then place his winter coat or blanket over the harness. A car seat poncho is also another option.
Either option will keep your baby warm without affecting the car seat straps.
7. Other Things to Check and Monitor
Even if your baby reaches the toddler stage, you still need to observe car seat safety when going out. Aside from the measures I’ve mentioned, make sure to monitor these as well.
Your Child’s Age and Height
Checking both ensures that your child is using the right-sized car seat. These also signal when you need to adjust the seat angle, straps and positioning.
Car seats typically have a shoulder height marker that you can use as a guide. When your child is big enough, you can switch to a booster seat.
You’ll be securing this one with your car’s lap and shoulder seat belt. So, make sure your child is of the right age and maximum height.
Car Seat Expiration Date
Do car seats expire? Yes! Depending on your seat model, they usually last for 6 to 10 years.
Over time and many fun car adventures later, the integrity of the fabric, straps and seat buckle will deteriorate. Weather and temperature changes can also affect the quality of the components.
And when this happens, the seat’s ability to protect our kids becomes less. So, to ensure car seat safety at all times, take note of the date when it’s time to get a replacement.
This factor is also one of the reasons why it’s risky to get a second-hand car seat. If you do not know its history, there’s no way to tell whether it has been recalled or already expired.
The instruction manual or original packaging may be missing as well. So, when you can, opt to buy a new car seat.
Car Seat Use Outside the Vehicle
According to a 2019 study, 62.9% of sleep-related infant deaths occur in car seats. And more than half of these cases happened in non-travelling contexts.
So, whether you’re at home or outside with your baby, do not keep him strapped in a car seat. That way, even when your baby falls asleep, he won’t unconsciously tip his car seat over.
Fatal strangulation due to tangled car seat straps won’t happen either. Always keep the car seat inside your vehicle and use it for its intended purpose.
Children love to follow their parents around and mimic their actions. So, as a final car seat safety measure, be a good role model and buckle up when driving with them.
Doing this will make it natural for your kids to apply these protective habits when they become adults.
Now, a car seat keeps your child safe when you go outside. But what if you spend most of your time at home? Uh-oh.
Don’t worry. My baby-proofing checklist has all the things you need to keep your curious toddler safe and sound!