Imagine leaving the hospital with your newborn. Nervous and excited, you strap your baby into a car seat only to find out later that the car seat is counterfeit, not the dependable safety gear you were led to believe you bought. Sadly, child safety experts divulge that such scenarios are becoming starkly common.
Frequency of counterfeit car seats
“We're seeing this more and more frequently,” says Courtney Gleaton, an injury prevention coordinator from Florida. Although there are no national statistics on how many car seats fail to meet national safety standards, it's an issue that has grown in attention over the past five years, says James Dodington, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
Often, parents unknowingly fall into this trap. Dr. Dodington shares a case of a couple who purchased a counterfeit travel system at a heavily discounted price online, not realizing it was fake until they reached the hospital.
Understanding counterfeit car seats
Counterfeit car seats resemble the look of regulated, tested car seats but lack the vital safety labels and certifications, says Cassandra Herring, Director of Child Occupant Protection at Safe Kids Worldwide. They might not be made of the same materials and often miss parts found in certified car seats approved for use in the United States.
Certified car seats have proper labeling that meets all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards, without which, the car seat could be counterfeit. Moreover, the global marketplace enables people to buy car seats from other countries which may not meet safety standards set in the United States.
How counterfeit car seats find their way into our homes
Gleaton describes how the reduction in brick-and-mortar stores selling car seats and the convenience of online shopping contribute to the circulation of counterfeit seats. Furthermore, great discounts on coveted car seats can often entice parents.
How to avoid purchasing counterfeit car seats
Gleaton suggests buying car seats directly from the manufacturer or from trusted brick-and-mortar stores as a way of avoiding counterfeit products. You should always look for a label stating that the child restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.
If you've already bought a car seat and suspect it might be a counterfeit, you can verify the product's information by calling the manufacturer. If confirmed as counterfeit, offending products can be reported to STOPfakes.gov.
Caution with used car seats
Safety standards for car seats change frequently, and using a secondhand car seat comes with its own set of risks. To ensure the car seat is safe for use, it's crucial to know the seat's full history, ensure it hasn't been recalled, and check that it's not too old. If there's any doubt, it's advised to purchase a new car seat.
Proper installation of car seats
Once you've secured a safe car seat, it's vital to install it properly. Incorrect installation of car seats and booster seats can create a substantial safety risk. Consult the manual or seek a child passenger safety technician for assistance. Taking these steps will ensure your child remains as safe as possible when travelling by car.