Child Passenger Safety Week: How to safety use a car seat

Children under 2 be in rear facing car seat

By Ashly Custer - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Car seats are designed to keep our children safe, but how effective are they when used incorrectly?

During Child Passenger Safety Week, experts are highlighting the most common mistakes that parents make when strapping in their little ones and the adjustments that can be made, especially for children under the age of 2.

"Unfortunately, there are lots of ways a seat can be used incorrectly. We know from our statistics … that over 95 percent of car seats are not used correctly,” Jennifer Northway, University Hospital’s director of injury health prevention, said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride in rear-facing in car seats until the age of 2.

Medical professionals say it’s important to use car seats the way they were designed. For example, rear-facing car seats should be used only for that purpose. If the child is facing the wrong direction, it can result in serious injury or death.

"I don't know any other way to say this, but if the legs are broken, we can fix the legs. The purpose of rear facing is to cradle the brain and spinal cord so there is no damage to the brain or spinal cord,” Northway said. “If there is a crash and there is a brain or spinal cord injury, that is not something we can fix."

Northway explains that keeping children safe comes down to three things: selection, installation and use.

"If you can put your child into a car seat and just take them in and out without having to loosen the straps, they are not safe if they are riding in that car seat,” said Northway, as she demonstrated the correct way to strap in a child, “The straps need to come over the child’s shoulders like this and come down here so they come out below the child’s shoulders. That’s how it’s supposed to be."

Another common mistake that parents make is not placing the chest clip in the right place. It must be at the infant's armpit level.

“This is what is keeping the harness straps on the child's shoulders. If this was low, even though this child is still relatively small, in a crash, these straps could move and the child could relatively come out,” said Northway. She said the correct way to fasten the chest clip is to "pull this tight on a child's body, sink in, and were going to buckle it and shimmy it up."

Northway said not all car seats are created equal. She said some car seats fit in some cars better than others, so parents should make sure they choose carefully.

TXDOT is offering free child car seat inspections at its offices throughout the state.

“Seat Check Saturday” will be held Saturday at 4615 NW Loop 410. You can schedule an appointment by calling 210-615-5803.

For more information on how to correctly install different types of car seats, click here.

University Health System has car seat and booster seat safety information available online here.

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