How to protect a car seat

Every year more than 1,500 child passengers die and many more are injured in car accidents. Car crashes remain a leading cause of death in children in the United States. Car seat safety is important to help lessen the risk for injury when riding in a vehicle.

Safety when using child restraints [restraints for infants such as an infant carrier or rear-facing baby seat]

Make sure your child is always buckled up correctly when riding in a motor vehicle.

Infants need to be restrained in a rear-facing restraint until they have reached the highest weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of their car seat. Most infant seats have an upper limit of 30 or 35 pounds, though some go up to 40 or 45 pounds. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) also states that if a child has turned one year old, then the child should be placed in a forward-facing car seat as long as they meet the manufacturer’s weight and height limit for that specific seat. Car seats bought in 2001 or later come equipped with harness systems designed to hold smaller children more securely. If you have an older baby seat, make sure it is not missing any pieces before using it again.

If your child has outgrown their rear-facing infant restraint but is still too small for a regular forward-facing car seat, your pediatrician may recommend keeping the child restrained in back while riding in relatives’ or friends’ cars until you can afford to purchase a forward-fitting system that will provide the same level of safety.

If you are in a crash, you must replace your car seat. Car seats that have been involved in an accident generally cannot be reused because the force involved in the accident may cause unseen damage to the seat’s mechanisms or to its internal structure.

If your child is large enough for a booster seat but too small for a seatbelt to fit them properly, ask your pediatrician about using another type of restraint instead of a booster seat. Carrying children on your lap is dangerous, as this can increase injury during a collision by up to 79%. Carrying children on your lap also causes the driver to lose control over their vehicle and increases stopping distance by 7 feet (2 meters). Carrying more than one child on your lap is never a safe option.

Make sure the child restraint system fits snugly against the back of the car seat but does not pinch or cause discomfort to your child. The harness straps should fit so that they can be correctly positioned at or above your child’s shoulders and hips, without crossing over the face or neck. Car seats need to be replaced once a child outgrows them according to either their height or weight limit as stated by each respective manufacturer’s instruction manual. Car seats expire after six years from the date marked on the seat as required by law as stated. Using a car seat that has been in a collision is very dangerous as internal damage may have occurred during the crash causing it to be less effective. Car seats should also not be used past the expiration date because they may no longer provide the same amount of protection as they once did. Car seat safety is important to follow before and after any car trip especially during holiday travels with your children.

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