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NHTSA Study Finds That Many Parents are Installing Car Seat Incorrectly

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are the number one killer of children one to twelve years old in the United States.

“The key to keeping kids safe is to make sure your child is in the right seat for their age and size – and to make sure that the seat is correctly installed in your vehicle,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. “We encourage everyone to take advantage of the many resources available to ensure you’ve done everything to properly protect your child.”

To kick off Child Passenger Safety Week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), released a study highlighting the five major mistakes parents make in using car seats and booster seats.

Most parents believe that they are doing their best to protect their children in the event of a car crash. There are many car seat types and models from which to choose. The choices can be overwhelming, but they do their homework, asking family and friends for their input, and reading reviews and package labeling when shopping for a car seat. But how do you really know if you’d made the right purchase and then installed it properly?

According to the NHTSA study, these are the five most common mistakes parents make when installing car seats and booster seats.

  1. Wrong harness slot used – The harness straps used to hold the child in the car seat were positioned either too low or too high;
  2. Harness chest clip positioned over the abdomen rather than the chest or not used at all;
  3. Loose car seat installation – The restraint system moved more than two inches side-to-side or front to back; anything more than one inch is too much.
  4. Loose harness – More than two inches of total slack between the child and the harness strap; there should be no slack.
  5. Seat belt placement was wrong – Lap belt resting over the stomach and/or shoulder belt on the child’s neck or face.

Other findings from the study include

  • 20 percent of drivers with children as passengers did not read the instructions when installing the booster or car seat
  • 90 percent felt confident or very confident that they had installed the car seat or booster correctly

Safe Kids and NHTSA are encouraging parents to read the instructions included with their vehicle and car seat or booster seat and then take 15 minutes to perform the Safe Kids checklist:

  • Right Seat. Check the label on your car seat to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height.
  • Right Place. Kids are VIPs, just ask them. We know all VIPs ride in the back seat, so keep all children in the back seat until they are 13. Doing this, along with correctly using the appropriate child restraints, greatly reduces the risk of injury.
  • Right Direction. You want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. When he or she outgrows the seat, move your child to a forward-facing car seat. Make sure to attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.
  • Inch Test. Once your car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the base. Can you move it more than an inch from side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.
  • Pinch Test. Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.

Child Passenger Safety Week started on September 16 and ends on September 22 with National Seat Check Saturday. There are hundreds of car seat inspection locations across the United States as part of the Buckle Up Program, sponsored by Safe Kids and the General Motors Foundation. The Buckle Up Program was started 15 years ago to keep children and families safe in and around motor vehicles.