A recently released research data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that around 59 percent of car seats are incorrectly used, which can potentially compromise a child's safety.
In light of this staggering statistic, Heidi Murkoff, creator of What to Expect, connected with Joe Colella, Director of Child Passenger Safety for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), to discuss the commonplace car seat pitfalls and advise on the best safety measures.
"I often joke that car seat safety isn't rocket science, because it's harder than rocket science," says Heidi.
Finding Genuine Car Seats
According to Colella, there has been a recent rise in falsely produced car seats that do not meet the United States' stringent standards. These counterfeit seats are primarily sold through third-party online vendors, so he emphasizes the importance of buying from trustworthy stores instead.
He advises, "You can touch the demonstration car seat that's out on the shelf, and possibly, depending on the store, test it in your vehicle."
If online shopping is unavoidable, buyers are encouraged to directly purchase from manufacturers' stores on platforms like Amazon or Walmart, avoiding third-party resellers.
What Makes a Good Car Seat?
Car seats designed and certified for use in the U.S. are held to high safety standards and significantly aid in protecting children during crashes.
Colella asserts, "All car seats sold in the U.S. are required to meet stringent safety standards What that means is that all car seats have been crash tested in several ways, and that their designs will provide good protection for the children they're intended for if they're used correctly."
He adds that parents should primarily focus on purchasing a car seat that aligns with their child's height, weight, and developmental needs. Additionally, the chosen car seat's features should be adaptable to the car and lifestyle to encourage correct utilization consistently.
When to Replace a Car Seat?
Car seats are not lifelong investments, as their lifespan ranges anywhere from four to ten years. Colella notes, "Car seats have expiration dates. They have a useful life, and that ranges depending on the model from four years to ten years."
Besides the expiration dates, consider the condition of the car seat: it needs to have all its features intact, functioning correctly, and should not have been involved in any crash. These factors hold regardless of whether the car seat is secondhand or repurposed for a younger child.
Installing the car seat correctly
Proper installation of car seats is a complex yet crucial task as Heidi likens it to participating in the Olympics or solving a Rubik's cube.
Ensure the car seat is secure.
"If you pull on it in any direction, the car seat shouldn't move more than an inch," says Colella. A car seat that moves more than an inch may need reinstallation according to the manual.
Lock the seat belt if you're using the seat belt system
The seatbelt must be locked if it is being used for installation. Some car seats come with lock-offs that do this, but in other cases, gently pull the seat belt all the way out to the end until you hear a click.
Ensure the recline indicator is at the correct angle
"A lot of car seats have recline indicators on them. It could be a line that should be parallel to the ground, or it could be gravity-based", explained Colella.
Rest assured, you can visit the What to Expect website for more helpful pointers on infant car seat safety tips and check out the full conversation between Heidi and Colella.