Carseats

A reader of our site gave us this excellent suggestion: Put your child’s basic information somewhere on the car safety seat (perhaps with a covered travel tag so that it isn’t visible to a casual passerby): full name, address, phone number, allergies, blood type, emergency contact and doctor’s name. That way, if you’re in a car accident and can’t speak, a rescuer would be able to quickly access this important information. This idea would also be helpful if a caregiver has your child and the car safety seat for the day.

FAQs:

bullet What’s the law concerning car safety seats?
bullet What do I do if I can’t afford a car seat?
bullet Which type of seat is best for my child?
bullet My child is 4 years old. He can go to a seat belt, now, right?
bullet How do I know if my car safety seat is installed correctly?
bullet How do I know if a seat has been recalled or is not recommended by experts?
bullet My child is a special needs child, and regular seats don’t work for us. Are there other options available?
bullet What’s being done to make safety seats safer?
bullet How do I convince my child to sit in a car safety seat or wear a seat belt?
bullet How do I contact the manufacturer of my car safety seat?

What’s the law concerning car safety seats? Which type of seat is best for my child?

All 50 states have laws regarding buckling up a child, but the laws concerning car safety seats are up to each individual state and can vary. In fact, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, almost half the states fail when it comes to their laws on safety seats. Additionally, in April 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that no state met the recommended standards. This is what NHTSA suggests as far as type of seat goes. (NHTSA now also rates car safety seats on their ease of use. See the NHTSA Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cps/cssrating/)

Experts recommend, therefore, that parents go by the tougher recommendations posted by reputable child health and safety organizations. See these organizations for more recommendations and tips: American Academy of Pediatrics, theNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration; the National SAFE KIDS Campaign; or SafetyBeltSafe USA.

Here are some of the current recommendations, adapted from various sources (not implied or intended to be a complete list; see above organizations for more):

bullet Recommendations:

bullet Rear-facing infant seat: Infants should ride in rear-facing child safety seats until they have reached 1 year of age and 20 lbs. (Low-birth-weight infants should be supported in rear-facing, infant-only seats. Make sure the angle of the seat doesn’t cut off your child’s air flow, and if it does, find an approved infant car bed that will allow the baby to lie flat until he’s grown enough for a rear-facing infant seat. See the American Academy of Pediatrics for more on protecting low-birth-weight babies. Or, go to Medem and do a search under “special needs.”) 
bullet Forward facing convertible seat: Children about 20-40 lbs. and 1-4 years of age can ride in forward-facing or forward-facing convertible seats.
bullet High-backed booster seat (belt-positioning booster seat): Children too tall for a forward-facing convertible seat (ears line up with the back of the convertible seat) can use a high-backed booster seat.
bullet Booster seat: Children about 40-80 lbs. and 4 years and older also should use a high-backed booster seat. The seat raises the child so that the lap and shoulder belt fit properly, and the high back protects the child’s head and upper body. (Note: “shield” booster seats aren’t approved for children weighing more than 40 pounds — and for children less than 40 pounds, they reportedly pose a risk of ejection in a rollover crash). Several states — including the District of Columbia, California and Arkansas — have made booster seats a requirement.
bullet Seat belt: When children can manage (without slouching) to sit with their feet on the floor of the vehicle, their back straight against the back seat cushion, and knees over the edge of the seat (usually at about 80 pounds and 57″ tall), they can use a seat belt. The lap belt should lie across their hips, not their stomach — and the shoulder belt should fit across the shoulder, not across their neck or throat. They should always use both the lap and shoulder belt.
bullet The back seat is the safest place for any child 12 and younger (if an older child must ride in the front, move the seat back as far as possible to minimize danger).
bullet No child should ride in the front of a vehicle that has passenger air bags. Never use a rear-facing seat in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger airbag.
bullet Never carry an infant or child in your arms if the vehicle is moving — not even if the baby is crying, not even if you’re just going down the block. Even a fender-bender will almost certainly injure — and possibly kill — an unrestrained child.
bullet

Never leave your baby or toddler to sleep in the car seat or carrier. Children have died or been injured by being left to sleep in a car seat or carrier after the parents arrived at their destination. The victims either fell out, became tangled in the straps or choked to death when their head fell forward and closed off their airway. Do not succumb to the temptation to leave your sleeping baby in the car seat — even if you do bring the car seat into the house. Instead, put the baby to bed in a proper bassinet or crib — even if it means having to rock the baby to sleep again.

bullet If the safety seat moves in any direction more than one inch, it’s too loose. Go to the police or hospital to have a safety seat expert help you tighten it, and recheck the safety seat each time you use it.
bullet Always register your seat with manufacturer so that you can be notified of any repairs or recalls. If your seat is secondhand, call the manufacturer (usually a toll-free number) to find out if there’s been a repair or recall.
bullet Not all seats allow you to adjust the shoulder straps in the front. If you have a seat that doesn’t allow you to adjust the straps, you can warm up (or cool down) the car before taking your child somewhere so that his clothing is always about the same thickness. Remember: If you can slip more than a finger under the straps, they’re too loose.
bullet Do not place the child in the seat with a lot of padding or with a thick snowsuit; in an accident, the child can slip right out of the extra padding — and thus out of the seat.
bullet Don’t allow children to share seat belts.
bullet Never allow a child to ride in the bed of a truck or the cargo area of a SUV, unless it’s been equipped with seat belts.
bullet Older children should always use lap and shoulder belts, regardless of where in the car they sit.
bullet Never allow a child to place a seat belt behind his back or under his arm.
bullet And remember: Your child is less likely to fight using a seat belt if it’s the rule of the road, and if you always wear one, too.

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What do I do if I can’t afford a car seat? There are many organizations that will help you, either by giving you a seat or by subsidizing a seat. Call your local police station or hospital first. If they have nothing available, contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign or SafetyBeltSafe USA. Ford Motor Co. announced in December 2000 that it will donate 15,000 booster seats to Native American tribes in 18 states as part of a drive to provide 1 million seats to low-income families. From 2001 to 2003, Ford also sponsored the Boost America! program to educate parents about booster seats and to provide low-income families with booster seats.

If you buy a seat secondhand, make sure that it hasn’t been cracked or damaged, and that all the parts are present and in working condition. And call the manufacturer (usually a toll-free number) to make sure that no recalls or repairs have been announced on the seat.

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My child is now 4 years old. He’s big enough for just a seat belt, right? Actually, no. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now recommends that children ages 4 to 8 be placed in a booster seat. (In fact, several states — including the District of Columbia, California and Arkansas — have made booster seats a requirement and other states are working on similar legislation).

Children too tall or too large for a convertible seat, but too small (shorter than 4 feet 9 inches and lighter than 80 pounds) for a seat belt, should be placed in a high-backed booster seat. There are two types of booster seats: a high-backed booster seat and a simple booster without the back. High-backed boosters typically accommodate two methods of strapping your child in: the five-point harness that you’ve used with other seats (for smaller/younger children), and the shoulder and lap harness from your vehicle (used for larger/older children). For more information on booster seats, see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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 How do I know if my car safety seat is installed correctly? Two good rules of thumb: If the seat moves more than an inch in any direction, it isn’t tight enough. If your child can wriggle out of the straps, they aren’t tight enough (you shouldn’t be able to get more than one finger between the straps and your child). We know that your child will go through phases of squawking over being in a car seat. Don’t cave in. Explain to your child that your desire is to keep him from going headfirst through the windshield and getting hurt. Make it an inviolable rule: The vehicle doesn’t move until everyone’s buckled in, and if someone wriggles out, the vehicle stops. You will have less resistance if you always buckle yourself in, too.

There’s no reason to be driving around with a car safety seat that isn’t installed and used correctly. Most cities now train personnel in car seat installation, plus there are several organizations dedicated to making sure your seat is being used properly. And all of these car seat checks are free. Try your local police department, local hospitals or local fire departments. Or, call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign orSafetyBeltSafe USA for help. Additionally, DaimlerChrysler’s Fit For A Kid program includes education and free inspections (1-877-FIT-F-AKID). Also, for a safety seat inspection or to find a car seat inspection location near you, check out theSeat Check Web site (sponsored by DaimlerChrysler), or call their hot line: 1-866-SEAT-CHECK.

Even with all the reading Safer Child does, and all the car seats we’ve had to buy, we’ve NEVER gone through a car seat check that didn’t make the seat just a little tighter or more stable.

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How do I know if a seat has been recalled or is not recommended by experts? A good place to start is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which will list any recalls or poor reviews of a particular car seat. (In Canada, tryTransport Canada). Other helpful organizations include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National SAFE KIDS CampaignSafetyBeltSafe USA or Consumer Reports. Always fill out the warranty card for your car seat and mail it in. That way, the manufacturer can reach you if there’s been a recall or problem with the seat.

Additionally, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun to rate car safety seats on their ease of use. The grades, which go from A to C, are based on five categories (such as how easy to understand the instructions are to how difficult they are to install. Ratings can be found on the NHTSA Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cps/cssrating/.

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My child is a special needs child and regular seats don’t work for us. Are other options available? There are other options available for special needs children. See the Medem site for information (go to Medem and do a search under “special needs.”

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What’s being done to make safety seats safer? Many car seats now come with a tether strap that binds the car seat to the top of the vehicle’s seat. Check with your auto manufacturer to see if the company will pay for or subsidize installation of a tether strap. Additionally, a major change has come to the way car safety seats will be installed in new vehicles. As of September 1, 2002, all new cars will have one type of machinery installed in the back seat, called the LATCH system, which fits all new car safety seats. LATCH is an acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. Owners will simply lock the car seat in place, and all owners should be able to do this without the tricks traditionally necessary. This system, however, will have no bearing on older vehicles or older car safety seats. Also, the LATCH system is used only for forward and rear-facing seats, not with booster seats for children ages 4 to 8. Additionally, automakers are required to put the LATCH system only at the two seats by the windows, not in the middle where many parents put their children in an effort to protect against side impacts. Finally, the newer car seats are likely to be more expensive, which might limit how many parents can afford them.

Please be reassured that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that old seats (that have not been recalled) are just as good if they are installed properly. If you’re struggling with your car seat, or if you aren’t confident you’ve done it properly, take advantage of the expertise found in police departments, hospitals, fire stations, health departments or certain non-profit organizations — people who are working hard to make sure your child is buckled in properly. We encourage you to allow one of them to check your seat installation. It only takes a moment to save your child’s life.

Safer Child is also doing some advocacy work in this area.

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How do I convince my child to sit in a car safety seat or to wear a seat belt? You don’t have to convince your child to do anything. You’re the boss. Make the rule and then make it stick: Nobody goes anywhere until everyone’s buckled in. Having said that, here are some suggestions for preventing the squawking:

bullet Don’t give in and let your children ride without being buckled in — not even one time, not even for a block. If your children think the rule is negotiable, they will try to negotiate.
bullet Buckle everyone up, including yourself. Don’t let your parents, grandparents, friends, or big brother get away with not buckling up, either. Your children should see that it’s just the way things are.
bullet Don’t get angry. This always worked for us: “Honey, we don’t have to go to the playground today. I don’t mind. It’s your choice. Either you sit quietly while I buckle you in, or we go inside the house and (do a less favored activity). But I’d rather go to the playground, wouldn’t you?”
bullet Make sure the car seat fits properly for your child’s age and weight, that it isn’t crooked or wobbly. Make sure the straps are tight enough, but not digging into a leg or pinching a stomach.
bullet Give your child something to play with, something to drink, something to nibble on. Avoid bribing, but make sure your child is comfortable and able to play quietly. Play a tape or CD, sing a song, talk about what you see, tell jokes, play a game (but make sure whoever is driving is keeping eyes and concentration on the road). For long trips, consider getting a car TV for the back seat (the driver should never operate or watch the TV while driving).
bullet Give your child some power by having her check to make sure everyone is buckled in.
bullet Take breaks. On long trips, pull over and let your children stretch, use the bathroom, and run around every hour or so — or whenever they need to. Try not to force too much. Every child will have different tolerances for travel — try to accommodate — and in a pleasant way — as much as you can.
bullet On long trips, you might find it helpful to cut down a cardboard box and place it at a comfortable level under the child’s feet so that the full weight of her legs isn’t on her knees and upper thighs, or pulling at her lower back. This will also help her prop a coloring book or some other activity.
bullet Explain why the car seat, the booster seat, or the seat belt is necessary. Even a young child can understand about hitting a back seat or a windshield with his head and getting a “very big booboo” that would make him cry.
bullet If your older children complain that their friends don’t have to buckle in, you can explain things more graphically. In age-appropriate ways, explain what can happen to their head, their spine, or their life in even a minor fender bender. You can ask a community police officer, a hospital worker, a firefighter or emergency worker to help you explain.

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How do I contact the manufacturer of my car safety seat? (Do you need help tracking down someone not listed here? Or have any of these addresses or phone numbers changed?  Please let us know!)

On the Web:

CoscoEvenfloGerry (Evenflo)KolcraftFisher-PriceGraco (now owns the Century brand), BritaxSummer Infant (acquired Basic Comfort), Daimler/Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co.GMC/ChevyVolvo CarsStrolexSafeline

By Telephone:

Summer Infant: 1-800-268-6237; Britax Child Safety Inc.: 1-888-427-4829; Graco: 1-800-345-4109 (now owns the Century brand); Daimler/Chrysler Corp.: 1-800-992-1997; Cosco Inc.: 1-800-457-5276; Downunder (out of business); Evenflo: 1-800-233-5921; Fisher-Price: 1-800-355-8882; Ford Motor Co.: 1-800-392-3673; GMC: 1-800-462-8782; Chevy: 1-800-222-1020; Gerry Baby Products (bought out by Evenflo): 1-800-233-5921; Kolcraft Products Inc.: 1-800-453-7673; MCP Enterprises (World Toys Discount): 1-213-626-1847; Porsche Cars: 1-800-545-8039; Renolux (FBS. Inc.) (out of business); Car Seat Specialty (aka Nania, Safety Baby, formerly manufacturers of Renolux): 1-877-912-1313; Virco Manufacturing: 1-800-347-8909; Volvo Cars (USA): 1-800-458-1552; Strolex: 1-888-302-7701; Safeline: 1-800-829-1625; Jupiter Industries: 1-800-465-5795; LaRoche Bros.: 1-978-632-8638

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