The majority of car seats are installed wrong; here’s what parents need to know

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On Saturday afternoon, eight-month-old Arhaam sat comfortably in his newly-adjusted car seat.

His parents, Azeema and Hafeezuddin Ahmed, decided to bring him to a car seat checkpoint hosted by the South Jordan Police Department. In honor of Child Passenger Safety Week, trained technicians at the free event educated parents on how to install and adjust car seats in order to keep kids safe in case of a crash.

“He’s our first kid, so we weren’t sure if we were using it (the car seat) in the correct way, so when I saw this event on Facebook, I thought, we’ll attend it…” Azeema said.

The Ahmeds said a useful piece of advice they learned is that it’s important to keep the harness clip at the armpit level.

“That’s important because if it’s under here, there are chances of him falling out,” Azeema said, demonstrating on the car seat.

According to Hafeezuddin, parents should take advantage of such events.

“I think these events are awesome. I think everyone should come participate in it at at least one time so that they know how it’s to be done right,” Hafeezuddin said.

The Ahmeds are not alone. Many parents are unsure of all of the details involved in safely using a car seat.

In fact, when it comes to car seats, (60 percent) are installed incorrectly, according to Utah Child Passenger Safety. In addition, parents often use the wrong seat for their child’s age and size or don’t adjust the straps correctly.

Motor vehicle crashes are among the top causes of death for children under 13 in the United States, and a child is involved in a crash every 33 seconds.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 325 children under 5 were saved by car seats in 2017, and 37 percent of children killed in car crashes in 2017 were not using any sort of safety restraint.

“In my career, I’ve unfortunately had the opportunity to investigate car crashes where kids have been killed because they either weren’t in a child restraint at all or they were not in the right child restraint,” said Sam Winkler, Sergeant of the South Jordan Police Department, who was at the Saturday event.

At the event, the department handed out car seats from the Salt Lake County Health Department to families who needed them. Winkler said that for parents, installing a car seat can be a confusing and sometimes daunting task.

“Whenever you buy a car seat and you look at it, you almost draw a blank and there’s all these pictures and logos on there and then you’ve got this owner’s manual that’s almost an inch thick… People start having a little panic attack and doing what they think is right,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re actually teaching them the ways that they need to do it and walk them through step by step…”

According to Winkler, the last fatal accident in South Jordan involved a child who was sitting in the front seat without any type of restraint. The airbag came out at such velocity, that it killed the child.

“If that child had been in a child restraint, that child would have survived the crash,” he said.

Winkler said parents are sometimes under the impression that their child is big enough to go without a car seat or that they will be safe if they are sitting in a parent’s lap.

“None of that is true,” he said. “We really want these kids in these seats just to make sure they’re safe.”

Winkler said he wants parents to know that if they missed any of these checkpoint events, they can contact their local police, fire, or health department or the highway safety office to see what they can do to help with car seat safety.

“We want to make sure all kids are riding safely every time whether we need to get you a seat or whether we can get you a discounted seat or just check your seat, give us a call,” he said.

Click here to see dates and locations of upcoming car seat checkpoints.

Car Seat Safety Tips

Safe Kids Worldwide made the following recommendations to keep in mind while installing your car seat:

  • Attend a check up event or find a certified technician who can teach/ assist in properly installing and adjusting the car seat.
  • Read the owner’s manual for both your vehicle and car seat, as each car and seat type are unique. In addition, not all car seats are right for certain vehicles.
  • Place the car seat in the back seat. This is the safest place for children to ride.
  • Use the top tether to secure all forward facing car seats.
  • A car seat which is installed correctly should not be able to be moved more than an inch in any direction on the seat belt path.

NHTSA recommends that parents replace car seats after a moderate or severe crash in order to maintain the highest level of protection.

Car Seat Age and Size Recommendations

Based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recommendations, parents must take both a child’s age, weight, and height into careful consideration when choosing the appropriate car seat.

There are four car seat types: rear-facing, forward facing, booster seat, and seat belt. Below is a chart from NHTSA which shows car seat recommendations based on age:

According to NHSTA, parents should keep children in each type of car seat for as long as possible. They should only transition a child to the next car seat type when the child has outgrown the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements.

Children under age one should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.

To some parents, putting a child who is 8 to 12 years old in a booster seat may seem strange. However, a child should not transition from a booster seat to a seat belt until they are the right size. NHTSA recommends keeping a child in a booster seat until the shoulder belt lies compactly across the chest and shoulder and the lap belt fits across the upper thighs rather than the stomach.

Children are usually ready to use a seat belt when they can keep their back against the seat, bend their knees over the end of the seat, and when their feet can reach to sit flat on the floor.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children aged 12 and under should always sit in a back seat in the car or booster seat or seat belt appropriate for their size and age.

Utah Car Seat Laws

According to Utah Law, children who are younger than 8 years old, are required to be in a child restraint device unless they are 57 inches (4 feet 9 inches) or taller. However, children who meet this height requirement must still wear a seat belt.

According to Winkler, a seat belt in a car is designed for a person who is 4 foot 9 or taller, so he would rather see kids reach 4 foot 9 versus age 8 before they transition from a booster seat to a seat belt.

“If they’re not 4 foot 9, that seat belt is not going to fit them correctly,” he said. “By taking them out of that booster seat prematurely, in a crash, they could suffer some serious internal injuries, maybe a lacerated liver or a neck injury because of how that seat belt is sitting on them.”

Registering car seats

Parents can register their child’s car seat at or on the car seat manufacturer’s website. This makes it easy for the manufacturer to alert parents to any car seat recalls so that the seat can be replaced or fixed.

A recall is one of the many factors which can make a car seat unsafe. Kerrilee Spain is a parent who attended the car seat check point event. She said knowing that her child’s car seat is safe gives her peace of mind.

“…you don’t know who else is out there or what’s happening, if they’re texting and driving, if they’re drinking and driving, and I just want my child to be safe. If it (the car seat) is installed properly, I have nothing to worry about.

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