Don’t make these five tragic car seat mistakes

Though parents may say they understand that car seats are intended to keep their children safe, despite best intentions four out of five car seats are used incorrectly, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Arizona Department of Health Services data provides some alarming statistics:

Nearly 30 of the 45 child passengers in car crashes in 2009 were not properly restrained in a safety seat.

In one-third of those cases, a proper vehicle restraint could have prevented the death of a young child. Correct use of a child restraint can reduce the risk of fatal injury by as much as 71 percent, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Association figures.

Sadly, car seat “mistakes” can result in tragedy. Are you using your car seat safely? How would you know?

Here are five of the most common errors parents and caregivers make when using safety seats:

  • Installing seats too loosely. Give your seat a moderate tug near the seatbelt path or anchoring device used to secure the seat. If you can move the seat more than an inch in any direction the seat is too loose.

Fix this by pushing your weight into the seat and tightening the seatbelt as much as possible, ensuring that your seatbelt locks into place. Older vehicles may not have locking seatbelts, so you may need to refer to your car seat and car owner’s manual.

  • Buckling the harness too loose, too high or too low. If you can pinch the webbing along the length of the harness strap after buckling your child in, the harness is too loose. Fix this by tightening the straps so your fingers slide off during the “pinch test.”

Also, if your child is in the rear-facing position, the top of the harness straps should be at or below your child’s shoulders. If he is in the forward-facing position, the harness straps should be at or above the shoulders.

  • Turning children face-forward too soon. Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents to keep children in the rear-facing position until the age of two, or until they reach the upper height and weight limits of their car seat.

Under old guidelines, many parents eagerly turned their children around at 1-year-old. However, the rear-facing position is safest because it provides the most support for a baby’s head, neck and developing spinal cord in a crash.

  • Not using a booster. Arizona is only one of three states without a booster seat law, allowing children to transition to an adult seatbelt at the age of five. However, this law is misleading because seatbelts are not designed to fit children until they reach about 4’9”.

 After outgrowing their safety seat, children should use a booster seat to help position the seatbelt correctly. The shoulder belt should rest on the shoulder and chest—not the neck and face—and the lap belt should rest across the hips or upper thigh—not the stomach.

  • Using a seat that is expired or recalled. Look on the sides or bottom of the car seat for a sticker or embossing with an expiration date. If there is only a manufacture date, generally the seat expires after six years unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer.

Additionally, when purchasing a new seat, be sure to mail in the registration card to the manufacturer so you are notified of recalls or defects, or register your seat online.

You can also look up the latest recalls with NHTSA Recall Campaign List. 

AAA members can also benefit from the club’s free car seat inspections and installation training. To schedule an appointment with one of the club’s certified car seat technicians, contact AAA’s Traffic Safety Educator at 602-241-2945 or

RAK Video: Cardon Children’s Medical Center car seat safety expert Tracey Fejt, R.N., talks about securing safety seats properly.


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