PSA: There's A Good Chance Your Car Seat Is Installed Wrong

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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My husband and I aren’t handy at all. And when it came time to install our first baby’s car seat, we were at a total loss. The manual made it sound easy, but when it came time to do it, all the buckles and inserts and tightening and locking became one big confusing blur to us.

We ended up calling in some family help, and securing the seat in fairly well. Looking back, I wonder if we actually installed the car seat 100% correctly. Luckily, we never had to find out because we were never in a serious car accident. Thank God.

That was 11 years ago, when car seat safety wasn’t quite as much in the public eye as it is now. Five years later, when my second son was born, I decided not to take any chances, and took the car seat to a car seat safety inspector, who fixed our botched installation, and told us exactly how to do it. We all felt so much better, and although it took us weeks to make and secure the appointment, it was 1,000% worth it.

I knew at the time that it was likely we were not installing our car seat correctly just because of how clueless we are about stuff like that. But it turns out we were far from alone. According to a recent study from the U.K., 2 out of 3 car seats are not properly installed. The study was conducted by the British car magazine, What Car, and though it wasn’t the most super-scientific study out there, its results were very illuminating.

The study team conducted 30 random car seat checks from 2016-2017. 3,000 cars around the U.K. were randomly pulled over and their car seats were checked. It turned out that 36% of those car seats were not properly installed. What’s more, 33% of the car seats checked were the improper size and fit for the child.

And get this: 3% of kids were in no car seat at all. Yeah, that’s a small enough percentage, but how any parents drive their kid around without a car seat in 2018 is beyond me.

If this survey wasn’t convincing enough for you, then check out this 2016 study from the Journal of Pediatrics (totally legit medical journal). This study looked at 291 families and their car seat use. A whopping 77% hadn’t installed their car seat correctly, and 86% hasn’t positioned the seat correctly. There were also frequent errors in overall car seat safety (91% had some sort of error), most with errors in harness and chest positioning, reclining angles, seat belt usage, and lower anchor use.

YIKES, folks. This is seriously concerning. You probably know that car seat safety should be a top priority for all parents. The CDC reports that motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death for children. BUT, many of these deaths occur because of improper car seat use. And with proper use of car seats, these deaths can be decreased by 71% for babies and 54% for toddlers, according to the CDC.

So what can we do about this problem (besides keeping your kids in a bubble and never venturing outside your house)? Every car seat expert agrees not to try to take care of car seat installation yourself, even if you think you know what you’re doing. Always get it checked by a trained professional.

“Before installing any seat you need to read and carefully follow the safety seat manufacturers directions, safety belt labels and even the vehicle owners manual,” Debra Holtzman, car seat safety expert and author of The Safe Baby, Expanded and Revised: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living, tells INSIDER.

But she also advises all parents – no matter how confident you feel – to get your car seat checked by a professional. “[I]t is really easy to misinterpret directions,” she explains.

Holtzman recommends looking into SafeKids, an organization that sponsors monthly car seat checks around the country. This is how we got our car seat checked. It was awesome and FREE. Not only will the technicians check your car seat installation, but also offer invaluable tips about car seat usage and safety.

Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers free car seat checks. Many fire departments will check your car seat as well – you can contact your local fire station for more info.

What are you waiting for? Really, it’s nothing personal, but most of us can’t quite master the whole car seat installation thing ourselves (for once, I’m not the only clueless parent around here). So if you haven’t had your car seat checked by a professional, do it ASAP.

It doesn’t cost a thing, but knowing that your little one’s seat is properly installed is worth its weight in gold.

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