This One Thing Could Save Your Child’s Life

Tips to get in the habit of checking and re-checking car seats more regularly

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There’s nothing like a good party in the car with the kids. Cue the music, roll the windows down, and sing and dance the traffic away. It’s fun and easy to make shuttling around a memorable party in the car but it can quickly go wrong. Odds are, something’s wrong with how your child’s car seat is installed or being used. Maybe you don’t have him correctly harnessed in it, you let him keep his jacket on underneath the belt, or perhaps you let him put on his own seat belt, straps twisted and all, because, well, you know, he’s a big boy now.

It happens every day. I recently watched a car jam session I’d taped from the passenger side of our car while my husband drove us around. The kids were singing their hearts out and then I noticed, the seat belt straps on my son’s were way too low to be effective in a car accident. There he was, singing at the top of his lungs and the harness that connects the straps were down, below his chest, closer to his waist! This is how it happens. This is how children end up severely hurt in car accidents. I’d looked at him several times during that car dance party and didn’t notice the straps until watching him on the video, days later. How did I miss this? How can I tune back in, be in the moment of checking and re-checking these belts, when so many times I’m just on autopilot? Should I leave myself a sticky note in the car to remind myself to check his car seat?

The good news is, the Automotive Safety Program at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health is releasing a study this week that says parents are doing better when it comes to using car seats safely. But earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics highlighted the fact that 43% of children killed in auto accidents aren’t properly restrained.

Forty-three percent! As in, almost half!

Let’s face it, after the first baby, or years of having the same seat installed, or just living life rushing here and there with kids in tow, we can all become complacent about car seats and fail to see the details and daily importance of using them correctly. Until it’s too late.

Seat belt safety, at any age, isn’t anything new. We all “get it.” This isn’t our mom’s generation when it was legal for anyone, adults, and children, to ride in a car without even a seatbelt, much less a car seat. Seat belt laws, including ones pertaining to children, didn’t pass until the 1980’s. Since then, the laws, seat belts, and car seats have evolved and almost daily there’s a new article, study or recommendation on the topic. We read it and move on, not feeling as if it’s particularly applicable or urgent. But, it is. If you’re not even aware that you’re overlooking it, like I was, perhaps you too should add that sticky note to your steering wheel.

If you’re still reading this and nodding your head in agreement but know that when you stop reading, you’re going to move on to the next thing, read this recent article, 2 Paramedics Share the Biggest Car-Seat Safety Mistake All Parents Should Know About. It further highlights the importance of seat belts for children based on what they have witnessed in 20 years of work. It validates what parents continue to hear about children and car seats–we’re not using them right and as a result, too many children die or suffer injuries. The paramedics that are profiled offer a quick way to test out usage but once you install the seat, their method is a tad difficult to utilize unless you’re going to reinstall the seat each time.

These three resources have proven extremely helpful to me when it comes to car seats:

  1. City & State Resources: The resource I have found most helpful in making sure my seats are installed correctly, free of charge, is the highway patrol office. I consider myself to be an expert at installing car seats (due to repetition) but there’s nothing that replaces the people who live and breathe this stuff. My state highway patrol office has set days and times of the week when parents can drop by to get a car seat checked or installed correctly. If you go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and enter your address, you can find the nearest child car seat inspection station. You can also register your car seat with NHTSA and they will keep you notified of safety updates and recalls. If you’re traveling in another state this summer, it’s also good to check with local state highway safety offices about the specific seat belt laws in that state. They can vary.
  2. Back-to-School Time: Checking the installation of car seats and maintaining them regularly is a habit that needs prioritization. When your school starts contacting you about back-to-school requirements or needs, schedule a visit to your highway patrol office too. Or, September 17-23 is National Child Passenger Safety Week. This is a perfect time for parents to annually check car seats.
  3. The Car Wash: I drive a “mommy mobile” which means my car is outfitted with anything a kid might need throughout the day–snacks, clothes, I even used to have a portable potty in the very back for emergencies. Each time I get my car cleaned, which is about once a month, I take a moment to check the car seat and ensure it’s installed correctly and the straps are straight and working well. It just takes a moment but again, it needs to regularly get done before you really need them.

The bottom line is that parents need to get in the habit of checking and re-checking the installation and usage of car seats more regularly. And, in my experience, special attention should be given to the harness straps because those little suckers get twisted easily and that can throw everything off.

This one thing could save your child’s life.

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